Imagine an exhibition of sculpture covering ten acres of nearby Maryland countryside, the surrounding trees just beginning to turn russet and gold, the air brisk, the sun bright.
Imagine that in this outdoor sculpture garden children as well as adults are encouraged not only to wander and look, but to touch an infinity of shapes and textures, and to explore a thousand variations on a hue. It is the most sensual and delectable introduction to sculpture one could imagine for anyone at any age.
And it all exists in Germantown, where October's best show has just opened in the pick-your-own pumpkin patch at Butler's Orchards. Best of all, art lovers can actually take home, for only a dime a pound, the particular configuration of form, texture and color they find most irresistible.
If you want to start a very young collector off right, and even a dime a pound is a strain on the weekly allowance, there are still other examples of nature's Brancus like output in the bin full of tiny gourds - another infinity of shapes and colors - for as little as 15 cents apiece, or a quarter for larger ones. A kid on a big budget might fancy an outrageous abstract expressionist Turk's Turban (around $1.50 apiece, depending on aesthetic qualities) or a shapely Arplike crenshaw pumpkin at 12 cents a pound.
While in the pumpkin patch, visitors can also see an authentic bit of folk art in the form of a nearby gourd tree, the creation of Harry Lowe (known to his friends as Bozo), who has worked at the orchard for several years.
"The tree was dead and we were going to cut it down, but Bozo said 'Leave it be, I'll make a gourd tree," and he did," says Tood Butler, who works with his father in the family orchard.
Lowe, a shy man born and raised in Maryland, does not think of himself as a sculptor, nor was be aware that gourd trees are, in fact, a special kind of folk art in the deep South. His was pure invention.
But well-known area sculptor and photographer Bill Christenberry, who teaches at the Corcoran School of Art, has been fascinated with these gourd or "martin trees" for years, and has photographed many of them during visits to his native Alabama and Mississippi.
"It is a tradition down South, and the farmers take great pride if the big purple martin birds cme to nest in them in the spring. I've seen some very elaborate ones, some-of them strung on old TV antennae," he said. The purple martin is known for eating as many as 2,000 mosquitoes in one day.
Christenberry also explained that many Southern farmers grow acres of gourds to be sold as ornaments or water scoops, the kind Faulkner wrote about. Keeping the larger gourds for themselves, the farmers dry them by stringing them up in a barn. "When they're dry, they're very tough, and a large hole is cut in one side and the inside hollowed out to make it possible for the blackbird-size martins to set up housekeeping within. Some are painted, but others are left to fade into delicate natural hues."
Lowe's gourds have not been dried or hollowed out, but were simply strung from the dead tree branches with fishing tackle. They sport their own natural coloration.
Lowe has also built an array of other figures from pumpkins and gourds, all set up near the pumpkin patch to further entertain visiting children. Dried corn shocks have been cut and wrapped around nearby poles, and visitors are welcome to cut and take home all the decorative corn shocks they'd like, free of charge, as long as they bring along a strong knife.