Topiary French People

Whenever we carefully shape a road trip itinerary, topiary gardens are inevitably pruned from the must-see attractions list. Why bother with ’em, when a moderately nimble homeowner equipped with electric clippers and a free weekend can artistically render a whole front yard? Public topiary must offer something really special.

But we like one sculpted landscape, in downtown Columbus. It’s big, eerie….and French.

Columbus artist James T. Mason conceived and designed this topiary recreation of Georges Seurat’s impressionist painting, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte. Sponsored by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the Topiary Garden was created in 1989 on the grounds of a former school for the deaf.

Old Deaf School Park contains 54 human figures, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey and a cat, positioned as they appeared on Seurat’s canvas. The figures are sculpted in yews, shrubbery grown over a metal framework.

Wandering into the park from any angle, visitors will see what first appears to be a chaotic assemblage of leafy figures. Depending on the season and how the plants are doing, some of the framework might be exposed.

A big guy with a pipe languishes in a flower bed. A large-than-life shrub man in a top hat strolls with a women with an umbrella. The pond contains topiary boats rowed by topiary people.

If you climb onto the easternmost walking path, and stand over a small black marker to the left of the bronze sign, it all snaps into place. You have the same view as Seurat had in Paris in 1886. Except he was in Paris. And he was looking at people, not shrub people.

A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte works so well that we wonder why more masterpieces haven’t been rendered in foliage. What about topiary 1970s rock album covers? Houses of the Holy… Eat a Peach… Foxtrot… Rumors… Frampton Comes Alive….

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