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A Ceramic Artist’s Garden

The artist and her sculpture

The garden of an artist is a special place. Many gardeners, finding the urge to add accents almost as compelling as the need to plant the flowers, have placed decorative pieces between the rudbeckia and the lilies. An artist has the advantage of being able to create something personal and meaningful and then site it in the spot for which it was meant. Local ceramic artist Donna Lemongello has done just that while creating a garden that speaks to her affinity for the natural world.

Donna has created a relaxed, peaceful garden, one that she calls funky, but I call delightfully original.  Under the spreading branches of a fig tree lies the first hint of what this garden contains. Tiled steps with inset ceramic pieces provide a setting for several handmade pots and a few other well chosen items. Stepping into the back garden, under a trumpet vine-draped pergola,  the fountain seen above draws attention first. Water features in the garden soothe the senses; studies have shown they can reduce stress and increase the ability to relax and Donna’s fountain does all that, while adding hand crafted beauty to the space.

Donna has been a ceramic artist since 1977, first in Los Angeles and then, after moving to Davis in 1980, at the Craft Center at UC Davis where she  taught ceramic art and used the kiln for firing her own pieces. In 1992 she began firing in her own kiln right in her back yard.  As someone who loves the look of ceramics, but knows very little about the creation of the pieces, I find it almost magical that, beginning with a block of clay, Donna crafts such a diverse selection of objects, from tall sculptures to pieced tile work to vessels to tabletops.

A walk through the garden reveals tiles decorating the lath work that separates the kiln from the garden, a tiled edging for a raised bed, a marvelously pieced tile table top. Some of the art found in this garden are pieces originally made for a sculpture show at the Craft Center in the 1980s. A circular area cut into the patio floor contains a mosaic of pieces including one from the first firing in her own kiln.

The focus on nature, both flora and fauna, is what drew me to Donna’s art when I first saw it for sale at the Whole Earth Festival many years ago. Seeing this harmonious fusion between garden and art has opened my eyes to new ideas and possibilities. Even a piece or two of real art can help make our own garden a special place, something that moves beyond the commonplace and connects us to what is important in our own understanding of the world. Donna’s garden conveys this feeling well and, whether funky, original, or just plain delightful, it is one that is a pleasure to explore.

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