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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Folk Art Rocks


In the research I did last summer for Boston Park I could not come up with a satisfactory explanation of the stone planter. I eventually concluded it was built to protect the water pipe in the park. My only evidence for that is a picture I did not use because it could not be reliably dated.  It showed two automobiles foreground, probably from the 1930’s, and a small wooden enclosure on the edge of the park, with a pipe extending from one side.



A picture from the early 1950’s shows the stone planter in the same location, without the pipe. There is no community recollection of the water pipe at that date, either. For the little history I surmised the stone enclosure protected the pipe, further evidence being the sandstone surround, probably to keep the ground from being muddy. When the spring feeding the pipe was contaminated the stone structure became a planter. A logical continuum, but unproven.

I put every construction of folk art rock structures into Google to turn up an explanation of the origin of the little planter.  I've seen a thousand variations of rock urns and folk rock, but not a clue about the art form or movement behind this planter. I did turn up a homestead built entirely of stones, full of whimsical stone forms and creatures now open to the public on the death of the creator. Not a hint of how he was inspired.



In town there is a house with two rock urns in the yard. Aha, I thought, when I first wanted evidence. I will just ask Jim and have the story. He’s an octogenarian and a lifelong resident of the town. He’ll have all the answers. Jim bought the house in 1940, he told me, from the original owner, who built it in 1900. The urns were in place in 1940; he figured the previous owner built them, but knew absolutely nothing else. Except, they held flowers and flags well in summer.



All dead ends; I’d probably never know. Was this a project in Popular Mechanics? Or one of the newspapers back in the twenties or thirties, like all the quilt top patterns women accumulated and made? I’d never know.

Turning the pages of the last Township News, I stopped short. There was another stone urn, pictured in a story about the Fiscal Officer and Road Super of Perry Township refurbishing the arch to their township cemetery as a surprise gift to the township trustees.



I found the phone number and called in a heartbeat. The Fiscal Officer had not received her magazine yet. We had to sort through the confusion; the urns they replaced atop the arch? Those came from the hardware store.

No, no, the urn on the grave. She found the article on the internet. Oh, that urn! It was on the grave of the man who donated the land to the township, back in the 19th century. He died before the turn of the century. She had no idea who built the urn or why.


I would love to hear from anyone who knows of this folk art that seems to be built from fist sized rocks, a small mill stone, some concrete and some spare time. The urns, Jim’s and the one in Perry, could well have been built about the same time. Were they isolated ideas, or already in the popular culture. 

The urn examples, in a Perry Township cemetery and Jim’s yard, are about 250 miles apart, or the other side of the world in 1900 farming communities. The pipe surround in Boston Park, a different shape, is a logical extension of the urns in Jim’s yard, plus the stones and concrete. Someone had seen them and could do that when the original pipe housing in Boston Park needed replaced.

18 comments:

  1. Regardless of how they came to be, they are attractive.

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  2. The header is lovelt.

    Ah, the thrill of the chase...I too like to track things down and I hope someone comes up with clues to what you are seeking.

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  3. Early pink flamingos and mirror balls decorations?.

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  4. If these were over here in Britain I might - would - be able to help, but as it is, all I can say is that they seem to be following on from the tradition of solid stone garden urns that we have, starting around the 17th century. They sort of follow classical urn styles, but being built from small stones, would only be possible to date from the style of mortar. Best - as a professional - I can do. Sorry.

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  5. Love them - and hope the mystery is solved.

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  6. I am sure that with the dedication you have shown so far, you will eventually find out. Good luck and let us know when you solve the mystery.

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  7. I'm with joeh. No pink flamingos so the wives told the guys they wanted a planter like the one they saw in the park.

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    1. I'm with both of you. The precursor to bath tub grottos. But definitely made to look urn like, for a "higher class" look. I do hope someone else has seen these around their neighborhoods (or cemeteries) and can offer more dates.

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    2. PS-if I have to explain bath tub grottos, I'll know this is a local phenomenon, and I can also make good stories of pierogies, white socks and devil's strips.

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  8. I wish I knew the answer, but don't. However, your planter looks very much like the well we had in our back yard when I was a little kid. I think it was a hand dug well... we had a bucket on a rope we threw down to draw up water. I hope you solve this mystery... we all want to know ;-)

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  9. Is the clue that the top is a mirror image of the bottom...chalice like?
    Jane x

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    1. The urns must have been constructed in two pieces and set together at the end. The two in town have round stone rings in the center; the other one seems more square. Our town was quarry central in the 19th and 20th centuries; stone was easy to come by.

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  10. I love the stone urns and I'm wondering now if I could do a similar thing with two large pots covered with river pebbles and glued together to set in the yard here. I'll have to speak to a friend about it, probably not something I could do on my own.
    Too bad you'll probably never know the origins of the stone planter, but I like the guess that it was once covering a water pipe and is now being re-used as a planter.

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    1. Thinking about it, the flower pots are in the same folk spirit as my sister's lettuce lettuce tower this morning.
      Your two pots would be just the same. Ingenuity.

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  11. I think they're beautiful too. I love your determination in finding out the history of all those interesting places and obects in your area. They all seem to carry a story. I hope you find out the mystery to this one.

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  12. I really admire the way you work away at a mystery. Hope you find the answers.

    Thanks for your comment at mine which made me laugh x

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  13. there's lots of rocks around here, might have to try something like that

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  14. The stone planter is very neat. The urns however do not give that look. I don't understand why. May be because we expect Urns to be neat and traditional?

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