Anyone in the neighborhood looking for distinctive garden accents will find the choices practically unlimited. In fact, with so much available from talented sculptors toiling in their home studios – perhaps right down the street – and from nearby garden centers, any outdoor space can be transformed into a work of art.

As wonderful as it can be to spend time alone in the garden, sometimes it’s nice to have some other, well… things… around.

‘Carving is my life’

One look inside Carolann Haggard’s garage studio confirms it: Several unfinished works, including two massive stone mantels, await Haggard’s touch. More works spill out into the side yard.

Fascinating objects brought from Tuscany, her second home, offer a continuing wealth of inspiration, through the improbable sight of a giant iguana partially covered with colorful mosaic tile and ready for installation at Grauwyler Park hints that not all her work is inspired by the Old World.

“Art should reflect the spirit of the people are going to enjoy it,” Haggard says.

Haggard’s training includes an MFA in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, a BFA from the University of North Texas, and studies in sculpture, stone carving and mosaic at Italy’s Academia di Bella Arti and at studios in Carrara, Pietrasanta and Florence. It was her aunt – “a real-life Auntie Mame” she says – who first traveled to Italy, showed her the beautiful gardens that inspire her today, and opened the world of art to her.

Her work is custom-made, and prices vary widely. Many of her smaller pieces the size of a typical gallery exhibit have been commissioned by garden owners for about $2,000 and up.

Decidedly Un-Serious Art

Becky Johnson loves her Casa LInda home, drawing inspiration from the unusual shapes of the heavily treed lots on her street.

“This place reminds me of home,” she says, referring to the area in South Carolina where she grew up. “It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.”

During the four years she has live in this house, Becky has created a large, outdoor studio area and a back yard complete with winding paths, torpical vegetation and a swimming pool, all accented by what Johnson calls her “fun garden art.”

Johnson’s playfulness is everywhere. Colorful painted-metal dragonflies and butterflies hover above the oleanders. An army of red metal “fire ants” marches through the groundcover, votive candle-holders in their mouth to light the way at night. The beginnings of an American flag improvised from salvaged bedsprings and metal starts lean against a fence. Long-legged metal birds forage for food, tails high in the air.

“I work a lot with natural elements and strive for dramatic combinations of form, materials and spirit,” Johnson says.

She searches for the “energy” between different materials, such as a gnarled piece of mimosa or cedar and a toothy length of rusted steel. She stores salvaged metal for her outdoor pieces sometimes for years, until inspiration strikes.

Johnson enjoys creating humorous, relatively low-cost pieces. Her “fire ants” ($65 each) began as a way for her friends to have fun, affordable garden art.

Dogs and other Not-Quite-Alive Animals

David Duncan teaches art at the Winston School and has taught bronze casting at SMU, where he received his MFA, but when he comes home from a day of being around students, Duncan relaxes by his backyard pond.

Though it’s quiet, he’s not quiet alone then, either.

A bizarre fish, sculpted in metal, guards the pond. A skeletal, bright-white collie dog, all angles and curclicues, stands guard in the grass. The head of a frog emerges from the ground, its long tongue arching. An edgy-looking steel cat balances effortlessly on the back fence.

Like his friend Becky Johnson, Duncan draws inspiration from his love of live animals, so it’s no surprise to see him surrounded by three dogs and two cockatiels as he works. One of his more memorable pieces is a wonderful weathered-steel mailbox featuring a mail carrier trying to outrun a frenzied dog, and the collie sculpture in his yard was inspired by his first pet collie. Duncan’s work is custom-madee and his prices reflect the material used and the time involved. One 3-by-4 foot steel garden screen he produced recently priced at $700; a pair of 22-inch tall bronze outdoor lanterns came in at $5,000.

Ballard’s Beauties

Sculptor Debbie Ballard takes her inspiration from the human form. Ballard has populated her back and front yards with cast stone and bronze pieces, materials that typically weather all kinds of, well, weather.

Many of her sculptures suggest the female form, an attempt by Ballard to explore “women’s relationships with each other and the world.” The poses are evocative. Some figures rest upon the ground, others attempt to rise out of the earth.

Ballard doesn’t cast from life, but instead shapes the figures according to her whim.

“All of them start out nude,” she says, adding that any clothes are usually just “suggested or insinuated.”

Ballard received her MFA in sculpture from SMU in 1990, and her work has since been widely exhibited. Like many local artists, she works from her home studio, a converted and expanded garage.

Edith Baker Gallery handles Ballard’s work locally, preferring to arrange her pieces in groupings, an approach Ballard agrees with; the figures look fantastic en masse in her backyard, but really come into their own as works of art when thoughtfully places in idyllic settings. Pricing for a typical set of four to five large, cast-stone figures ranges from $35-40,000, but the most popular pieces are priced at about $1,000.

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