Sculpting light at the Botanical Garden

Thursday July 12, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE - Since ancient times, gardens and sundials - along with other objects that deploy shadow onto earth- have seemed a perfect union. Before industrialization, sundials were the cutting edge of technology, an instrument steeped in the scientific and the aesthetic.

So for the next four months, the Berkshire Botanical Garden will headline the major exhibition "Garden Time: Objects Employing the Sun," a show and sale of sundials, armillaries and spheres created by Greg and Natalie Randall of Kent, Conn.

Silka Glanzman, the communications manager at the Garden, said it's gratifying to see the way the sundials meld with the gardens.

"They draw you into the beds, guide you along the paths and create intimate spaces," Glanzman said. "As part of the Garden's educational mission, the ' Garden Time' exhibition hopes [to give] visitors an approach to garden design that they can recreate and enjoy in their own gardens."

The Berkshire Botanical Garden's 2012 season theme is "Garden on Fire." Beginning with its first exhibition of shade shelters ("Gimme Shelter: Architects Design for Shade") this season's focus incorporates the sun.

"'Garden Time' fits that theme, harnessing direct light with historic ornaments and creating something new and modern in the garden," Glanzman said. "The Randalls have been in the antique garden accessory game for 20 years, and we were thrilled to incorporate their experienced vision and design sensibility."

Diverse backgrounds

The Randalls have owned their antique business, R.T. Facts, for 20 years. They bought the Old Town Hall in Kent, Conn., renovated it and turned it into a shop that houses their collection.

Their backgrounds are varied: Natalie's in fashion design and product development and Greg's in sculpture, art history, and the fine art and antique business. Most of their clients also work either in fashion, interior or garden design.

"We are still looking for that phrase that sums up what we do," Natalie said. "We started out specializing in garden and architectural antiques - garden furniture, urns, sculpture and fountains as well as sundials. We have branched out into antique indoor furniture and lighting, and we design our own line of furniture and mirrors. Almost everything is bigger than a bread oven. We tend to sell larger pieces."

Greg said the BBG asked a year ago if they would do an exhibition on sundials. The Randalls readily agreed.

"Humans have been employing the sun for telling time since the construction of Stonehenge and the building of obelisks in Egypt," Greg said. "Sundials are not just tools, but objects of beauty. They can be traditional, historical, whimsical, and most importantly a focal piece that can define a whole area in your garden."

The exhibition currently has 10 sundials, but there are plans to rotate in others as some pieces sell and to display a larger variety. One has sold already, Natalie said.

Nature's magic

The Randalls have included original ideas in some of the sundials, such as the " birds" dial, which they made from an antique millstone with a lip around the edge where stone birds perch, marking the hours, and an iron branch creates the shadow. Water sits in it after the rain, like a birdbath.

This type of creativity fits sundials well. In a garden, Natalie said, one lays the architecture, designs the space and flow and then " nature takes over and works her magic."

There is an element of trust and surprise in a garden, Greg added, as well as beauty and constant change.

"One visits and revisits and watches the change in seasons," he said. "The sundial or armillary sphere adds a focal point to the garden that traditionally allows the gardener or visitor to track time. They also add interest in the autumn as the garden becomes barren, and in winter as the snow and ice play on the spheres or dials in interesting ways."

What: ‘Garden Time: Objects Employing the Sun'; antiques experts Greg and Natalie Randall design an exhibition and sale of architectural sundials, armillaries, and globes

When: Through Oct. 15. Garden open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m.

Where: Berkshire Botanical Garden, Routes 183 and 102, Stockbridge

Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and free for children under 12

Other: All pieces are for sale. The current price range of the sundials is $1,320 to $10,450.

20 percent of all proceeds go to the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

Information: (413) 298-3926,


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