The Creatures of the Lawn
Topiary at play on Virnankay
by Anita LeBlanc
"This is Ann Arbor," says Marguerite Grabarek. "Gotta keep the dog on a leash."
With dry humor, Grabarek is explaining why a rope connects two bushes in her front yard on Virnankay Circle--one sculpted in the likeness of a child, and the other of her dog, Kanga.
Almost two years ago, Grabarek asked a longtime artist friend, Georgia Donovan, to create a topiary that would pay homage to Kanga, her now eleven-year-old German Shepherd-German Pointer mix she adopted from the Humane Society of Huron Valley. She wanted the sculpture to have a ball in its mouth "just like Kanga does most of the time."
Donovan, who combines her art and gardening skills to create whimsical human-like topiaries she calls Cedar sapiens, knew that her first time creating an animal would be a challenge but said she'd give it a try. (She's since created a Loch Ness Monster and exhibited her Cedar sapiens in the Grand Rapids Art Prize competition, near her home in Rockford. She estimates she's done about seventy-five Cedar sapiens installations on Homo sapiens landscapes.)
Donovan began looking for trees at nurseries, waiting for "the ones that spoke to me, the ones with a presence." She eventually found two eastern white cedars, aka arbor vitae, that were perfect to make the Kanga doppelgaenger. She also decided to buy two child-sized ones, in case Grabarek's neighbors were inspired to buy and plant them. Using wire, string, and pruning shears, she set about shaping the trees into their respective identities, a process that took about a week. She charges $100-$300 for each creation (tree included) with an additional fee for delivery and installation.
Grabarek adored the Cedar sapiens kids and decided on the spot to create a group with the Kanga sculpture. She and Donovan set up the installation as a playground, putting one cedar kid on each side of the lawn.
Grabarek enjoys creating seasonal costume changes for her creatures, visiting dollar stores for bargain-priced inspiration and also receiving some from
friends. This summer, all three sported oversize sunglasses from friends in New York, one of the kids balancing a hula hoop on its limbs as the other held a pinwheel aloft while maintaining the leashed dog, whose ball now balances on top of a coat hanger in the ground.
Why did Grabarek do it? "It's just so much fun seeing people walking by and smiling," she says. "I've had people walking down Pauline and suddenly make a detour to take pictures and a second look. Kids come by with their friends, and folks bring their kids in strollers to see them."
[Originally published in November, 2013.]