Thursday, November 6, 2014

AN INTERVIEW WITH LINDA BRAZILL AND MARK GOLBACH

GARDENING, WRITING AND ART
I think I met Linda and Mark at an open house we held at our retail store/office on East Wilson. Mark's sister worked with Rick at a local department store. I'm pretty sure she was the one who pushed them to attend. Once we realized we were all bloggers we started keeping in touch through each others postings. Linda writes and Mark photographs for their highly informative and extremely gorgeous blog on gardening. Here is the link: http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com. Once you've finished reading our blog if you haven't seen the blog Linda and Mark write, Each Little World, you need to go over and look at one of the best conceived and inspirational blogs out there.
On one of those last beautiful Sunday mornings this year Mark and Linda invited a group of friends over for coffee and breakfast and a tour of their home and gardens. We were fortunate enough to be included. Once I saw the gardens and their home I knew I had to do a post on these two unique people. What follows are excerpts from an hour long interview with the two of them just as the trees were beginning their glorious color transformation at the onset of autumn.

LM: Let's start out with a bit of history. Can you give me some sense of your background?
MG: I have a BA in art from St. Johns University in Minnesota and a BFA from Washington University in Painting.  After college I came back to Madison and worked at the Madison Art Center for minimum wage managing the Madison Art Fair on the Square and living in my parents basement.
Needing a better paying job I took the first job offered to me by the State which was a security officer for the University. This was my day job well really my evening job. I worked the pm shift. I had my days free to do what I wanted. I worked on my art. Then I held shows of my art in my apartment. I'd have an opening on Firday night and then I'd have an open house on Saturday and Sunday and that would be the show. I just invited my friends and they brought people and I'd maybe make enough to buy materials for a year.
Then I met Linda and she brought me to gardening. So for twenty-five years that's been my principle medium. After 34 years I retired from the University. Since I retired I've been working on my painting and photography.
LB: I have a BA in art education from a women's college in Buffalo and a masters in textile design from the UW. When I got out of school I got a job with a printer because of my graphic background with textiles. I worked as a typesetter for a couple of printers for a few years and then I went to a small alternative news weekly that was a competitor of Isthmus when Isthmus was just starting. I worked as an illustrator and graphic designer. I sold advertising and I was the calendar editor.
A ways into the job my boss said to me, "You're always telling the sales staff when they go out to this and that store who they should talk to, how they should pitch it, what the store features. You know all this stuff. You should start writing a column, Can you start next week. Lets come up with a name." That was in 1981 and I wrote that column in print until 2009. It was called "Artful Shopper". It started out being; if you saw this in House & Garden who has it in Madison or what's the closest thing. I'd go out and shop and come up with themes. I started doing stuff on how do two people deal with financing, letter writing, family traditions, cooking and then more and more gardening until it became more or less a gardening column. That newspaper only stayed around for three years and when it folded our editor went to the Cap Times and they took my column.
At some point after I had moved into the newsroom they started an editorial board and I got onto that and that was the group that would interview candidates and decide what political position the newspaper should take. We started writing more political kinds of columns and then I became an editorial writer with John Nichols. I was still doing my artful shopper column. Then I became a features editor. And then when they stopped publishing daily I left and started blogging.
I'm an artist based on all my training but the thing I've done much more of is writing so in truth I'm much more of a writer than a visual artist. The line in my blog reads, "An artist by training, a writer by profession and gardener by choice".

LM: Can you define a style that represents your work?
MG: I've been toying with an idea to put on a one man show with all the different styles that I've done that people might not know I've done. I've had a big German Expressionist period, an Abstract Expressionism phase, collage, geometric abstraction, some sculptural things and more recently photography I've always been trying to find that balance between structure and looseness.
LB: My writing is eclectic because I wrote editorial so in editorial you are writing the newspapers institutional position not yours. But then I wrote a lot of political commentary of my own and then I wrote about every possible subject in my column over the years.
If I think about my artwork in college I was doing abstract painting.

LM: Let's look at how the garden and house came about.
MG: After 5 years at our little house on Spaight Street we said we wanted to continue gardening and there wasn't much more we could do there other than maintain it. I told Linda if we get a larger lot I'll give you ten years and I'll put away my other interests but after that you're on your own. That was 20 years ago.
LB: Our neighbors have a cabin up north. I said I don't want another house to deal with. I want to walk out the back door and be on vacation. The other thing we really wanted to create was a place where we could have this really wonderful experience without leaving home.
LB: We started looking for something about 13 acres and no more than an hour out of town. We found a fabulous property with a house we couldn't bare. This isn't going to work we don't have enough money. We started looking at smaller and smaller and closer in. We need to have something where driving time doesn't detract from gardening time. So it couldn't be an hour away. We needed to start thinking about in town in areas where lots were plotted larger. A friend of ours told us about a house that was going on the market. It was in a neighborhood we were interested in and we could afford it. We went and looked at it. When we got home Mark said, "That was nice" and I said that was more than nice. I said we're making an offer and since there is someone else that is interested we are making an offer instantly.
MG: There was nothing in the yard but the big trees and stuff on the perimeter. There was nothing in the middle that you had to get rid of. The lot slopped and most importantly there were these big windows. You walked out at ground level and everything in the house worked. We weren't going to find anything that would be a blank slate for the garden that would be better than this.

LM: Did you have a plan for the garden?
MG: Before we had closed on the house I had drawn up the first plan. It involved a flat area in the backyard you stepped up and there was a reflecting pool with English borders flowers around it. In some of the corners there were more rustic areas, wooded areas shade gardens there was a little pool somewhere. All of our fantasies about what kind of garden were all there.
As the first year went on a couple of things happened. We were on our way to a party that winter. As we were driving we saw this scroll in a shop window. Linda said stop the car. It was snowy and slippery. I drove around the block and we pulled up and we feel in love with the scroll in the window. We went on to the party that Saturday night .Sunday morning we called the owner of the shop, who we knew, and told him not to sell the scroll until we had a chance to see it. It was on consignment. They were asking more than we had ever paid for a work of art before. It was this purchase that started us thinking about an Asian influenced garden.
LB: We went to a conference, an editorial writers conference in Seattle in 2000. While I was at the conference Mark went around finding antique shops and galleries deciding which ones we should go back to. We bought our first Asian sculpture and we bought the lantern on this trip. It was about six years after we moved in but only three years after we started the garden. I think we were clearly committed. I think we both always liked lots of different Asian cultures. As westerners and Americans it has taken quite a lot of years to understand how different these cultures are.
MG: It was a real struggle. Linda resisted. She didn't want to have some sort of a pastiche trite garden. I tried to get around that by coming up with terms like western analogue. It wouldn't have to be a lantern maybe we could use an English chimney pot instead.
That first year we didn't mow the back at all. When the grass got really high we'd cut paths through it to kinda play with where the paths might go. We had hoses and ropes all those techniques.  When we decided that we were going to have a pond and needed some rocks we made cardboard rocks and put them in the yard to see how big a rock we needed from a distance and then I'd go out to Madison Block and Stone and see how much they would cost.
We had planned to start working on the second summer we were there but we decided we weren't ready and we waited until the third summer
LB: As we started stockpiling stuff in the driveway we met all our neighbors because everyone kept coming over asking us, "What are you doing?" A neighbor down the street called and said we're taking up a brick patio do you want the bricks and Mark went up and down the street with a wheelbarrow getting the bricks and then another neighbor gave us a tree that he had to move.
MG: By the time we started I knew where the pond was going to go, I had that laid out with string. I knew where the stream was going to go. I knew there was going to be some sort of a building up here. There was going to be a couple of mounds with dirt from the pond. I knew what the features were going to be in the front and I had laid out all the paths. The bones of garden were all designed before we started and then we worked from back to front.
LB: It was a big decision to sort of realize we have to have what we call the big idea we have to have an overarching theme or style or it will just be a big mess. So that was hard to have to decide we had to give up some of our other ideas. It was at this point I decided we were going to put in a lot more shrubs trying to lower the maintenance. We have a lot of spring things happening but then I get tired of it and I just want green. It's not a flower lover's garden. But then you get this burst of color in the fall. We designed the garden for winter as well as summer.  The view from the big back windows was like a theater view form the house.

LM: What's your routine with the garden?
LB: In the early days we had a little table here and two chairs. I'd sit and make notes. This summer in particular we sat outside a fair amount of the time and did nothing. Every morning I get up and immediately look out the window. There's a nice view out the bathroom window and there's a great view out over the sink. Placing trees and thinking about what you'll see out of this window from this window were very important to us.
MG: We frequently go out for walks in the yard. Out of curiosity on time I paced off all of the routes you could take in the garden. In a lot that's 200 feet deep there's 900 feet of paths and there are numerous places where you have a choice of going one way or the other so you can go this way today and chose another way tomorrow and see something different
LB: That's true. We do that a lot. We say, "Want to go for a little walk in the garden? I'm sure other gardeners do that as well.
MG: We have to remind ourselves that the reason we are doing the walk is to look at things that are positive and try to ignore the things that need work. It's always a balancing act and also spending time enjoying it as opposed to doing the ongoing work and the maintenance. And some times for me maintenance versus new construction is a hard balance to maintain.

LM: What about the teahouse?
MG:It's a visual element. We've made an effort this summer to get out there and figure out what makes sense.
One morning on my way back from the coffee house a storm was brewing and I said I'm going to go up to the teahouse. I just sat up there for a couple of hours and it was wonderful.
Some nights we'd say how about drinks in the teahouse. We'd take our shaker of martinis up there. Martinis because if we spill them on the mat they're not going to stain
People ask if we meditate or do tea ceremonies and no none of those things are a part of our life. I am finding how peaceful it is up there. When I'm there I start noticing the sounds, watching animals flitting by and splashing in the pond. It's really quite nice.

LM: So what's left on your bucket list?
MG: I tried to give a lot of thought to retirement and what I wanted to do. I kept coming up with the same things: spend more time doing the things I've always enjoyed and didn't feel I had enough time to do, entertaining, working on my art, finishing the garden, reading. Somebody said, I don't have a bucket list I have a fuck it list.
LB: To a large extent that's true. When you see all those hundreds of gardens you must visit. I think we've seen two or three gardens that were so fabulous nothing will top them.
Nitobe Memorial Garden in British Columbia on the University campus which is a beautiful, beautiful Japanese garden with second growth, big old trees, beautifully maintained.
Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.
I do think one of things we did consciously was to create an environment that is so satisfying and so comfortable we prefer to share it and that's true inside and outside. There's not tons of stuff that tempts us away.
MG: There's a cardinal in the ginkgo tree another spot of red
LiB: Oh yeah!













THE GALLERY
Torii Gate, Hokkaido, Japan, 2004
Michael Kenna, photographer
Represented by Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

1 comment:

  1. How I wish I could see their garden... One of these days...

    ReplyDelete