Debra Prinzing

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Sheds in miniature

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Shedista Kathy Fries, wearing her amazing necklace.

When we wrote about and photographed the multiple sheds at Kathy and Ed Fries’s garden outside Seattle, we titled the chapter “Suburban Follies.” I mean “follies” in a good way because their landscape is dotted with a colony of amazing, fanciful structures.

Just when I think Kathy has exhausted all of her creative brainstorms, she surprises me. Last evening I saw a work of art around her neck that blew my mind. Actually, it is a collection of five works of art, suspended from an elegant gold chain.

These canvases are tiny. Miniature. Diminutive.

A little fairy must have painted the garden and shed still-lifes that range from a pinkie fingernail to a nickel in size.

Kathy is one of the most inspiring, big-idea persons I know, especially when it comes to garden-making and shed design. She recently commissioned this breathtakingly-beautiful piece of jewelry that celebrates all that she loves about her garden.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her dazzling necklace at our dinner last evening. Thankfully, she allowed me to take photos and write about the art and the artist:

Kathy's one-of-a-kind necklace by artist and painter Christina Goodman

The allure of this art is that Christina Goodman didn’t just shrink down photos of Kathy’s architectural follies and other garden ornamentation to fit inside the Old-World-style gold-leaf cases. No. She painted each of these tiny canvases using a minuscule brush.

According to her web site, this California artist uses “very fine brushes, good lighting and a magnifier . . . and acrylic paint as it dries quickly and allows me to work on a small scale” to create her miniatures.

As for the lovely Renaissance-inspired frames, Christina says she designs and builds them “with wood using miniature moldings and a centuries old water gilding technique. The result is well worth the labor-intensive process. In the end, I hope to capture the luminosity of Renaissance painting in miniature.”

Kathy met Christina last year when the artist exhibited at the Bellevue Arts Festival. Kathy loved her miniature pendants, pins and earrings that featured trees, birds and other scenes from nature.

And she started thinking about the possibilities of having a one-of-a-kind necklace to celebrate her garden and its “sheds.”

One of the pendants was inspired by a vintage cast-iron chicken that is mounted on the Dutch door to the boys’ playhouse (see photo, above left). Kathy requested that Christina render it in miniature for her necklace.

The huge urn (in miniature) that dangles from the right side of her necklace is in reality about 4 feet tall and made of cast iron. I believe it was one of Ed’s “finds” that became a garden gift for Kathy. She jokes that its provenance was as a hotel ash tray. The last time I saw the piece, it was planted with a huge hosta and standing in the shade garden.

The three central gems on Kathy’s necklace include her Viewing Tower, her Doges Palace and Palais de Poulets, her chicken coop. Each was handcrafted by John Akers, a Seattle builder and salvager of architectural artifacts who collaborates with Kathy on many of her garden projects. Just in case you haven’t actually seen these structures before, here is how they look as real-life pieces of architecture. Bill Wright photographed them for our book Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways:

Kathy's tower overlooks her Medieval-inspired knot garden. The octagonal structure rests on a 12-foot-tall platform with steps and an iron railing.

The Doges Palace was once an unsightly 20-by-20 foot aluminum shed. Now a fanciful garden house, it is embellished with verdigris copper sheeting and a clock tower.

The Palais de Poulets, also known as "Clucking Hen Palace," was transformed from a decrepit shed into a functional and decorative coop inhabited by a flock of heirloom chickens.

Can you imagine what I’m fantasizing about? What special piece of art or architecture do I now dream to own in miniature by Christina Goodman? I’ll be on the lookout for just the right precious object.