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.

A Gazebo in the Garden

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
Kathy Fries, framed by her new gazebo

Kathy Fries, framed by her new gazebo

Most gazebos are a little twee for my liking. If you think of a traditional white latticework structure, the kind that looks as if a gust of wind or a swiftly-kicked soccer ball might knock it over, you probably don’t love gazebos either.

Ever since I started scouting great garden architecture for Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways several years ago, I have changed my tune.

Case in point: When I was in Seattle earlier this summer, my friend Kathy Fries invited me to see her new copper-roofed gazebo. Situated in the heart of Kathy’s prolific vegetable garden, the structure was built by John Akers. I’ve written about Kathy and John’s collaboration before, both in this blog and in the pages of Stylish Sheds. He is a salvage-artist-carpenter who knows how to take Kathy’s grand ideas and construct them into fanciful garden buildings.

It's a lovely addition that enhances the vegetable garden

It's a lovely addition that enhances the vegetable garden

What I love about Kathy’s new gazebo is that it is both beautiful and functional (not to mention sturdy!). In it, you can gain shelter from rain or sunshine; you can pause while picking raspberries and sit on one of two facing interior benches. You can “gaze out” over the garden, looking through openings on either end or the side walls.

The gazebo’s charming rooftop joins several other turrets, cupolas and domes that populate the skyline of Kathy’s garden. Plus, it gives the vegetable garden a new point of view. When John erected the gazebo, it allowed Kathy to realign some of her paths and planting beds on a main axis. It’s beautiful and I know everyone who sees it will start dreaming about a new sort of garden gazebo.

And did you know that Gazebo is believed to come from the Latin for “Gaze About”? I’ve added definitions from several sources to my Shed Glossary, here.

If you have a Gazebo you want to share, please send me the photo and I’ll post it in the future. Here are a few more photos from Kathy’s garden:

Chicken Coop Sightings . . .

Thursday, August 6th, 2009
A vintage EGGS sign hangs in Kathy Fries's fanciful coop

A vintage EGGS sign hangs in Kathy Fries's fanciful coop

Fresh eggs, how can you argue with that idea? I love cooking with fresh, organically-grown eggs produced by free-range hens. Thank goodness that I can buy them at my local, Thousand Oaks Farmers Market every Thursday! 

I wonder how long it will take before I graduate from growing backyard herbs, fruits and vegetables to raising chickens? Let’s see. . . maybe after my children leave for college, and perhaps after my beloved Lab, Zanny, has passed on.

Poultry fever has smitten many of my friends, though. I love the way they’ve integrated chicken culture into horticulture (get it?). And I really love the chicken coop architecture created by inspired hen owners.

Bonnie Manion's hens live in a renovated children's playhouse!

Bonnie Manion's hens live in a renovated children's playhouse!

My blogger friend Bonnie Manion, who writes at Vintage Garden Gal, often shares stories of her hens, advice on raising chickens and even the care an maintenance of coops. She has just inherited a couple of charming gals – Buff Wheaten Marans. You’ll want to read more of Bonnie’s chicken adventures (and see more photos of her charming coop, which is a re-purposed children’s playhouse, shown here ).

Recently, a writer friend of mine paid me what I think was a lovely compliment. She said, “Debra, I want to create a book just like Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways – but about chicken coops!”

And my response: Go for it!

Bill Wright, my fearless collaborator, would love to photograph a chicken coop book. I call him “fearless,” because how else could you describe a guy willing to get inside a coop with half-a-dozen chickens, two youngsters and a lot of feed flying around . . . just to capture the perfect shot!!!?

Here is that photograph, of our dear friend and shedista Kathy Fries, along with her sons Xander and Jasper. We documented a moment in their daily routine, when mom and boys feed and water the chickens, gather eggs, and generally putter around the coop. That coop, by the way, is no ordinary henhouse. You’ll see what I mean about “poultry fever.”

”]Kathy, Jasper (left) and Xander feeding their chickens [William Wright photo]Kathy’s chicken edifice is called the Palais de Poulet. She worked with Seattle artist-builder John Akers to create the magnificent chicken abode, complete with a jaunty turret and a brick entry path lined with boxwood clipped into a fleur de lis pattern.