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Ohio Life

The Topiary Park, Columbus

This Columbus attraction re-creates Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” with plants.

Artist Marcel Duchamp, James Mason says, had a philosophy about art.

“He made the remark of taking a work of art and working it into the real world,” explains Mason, himself an artist. That’s the notion that fueled the creation of The Topiary Park, an interpretation of artist Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” composed entirely of plants.

“The idea was just to bring a painting to life so you could walk right into it,” Mason says.

He and his wife, Elaine, began building the scene in 1988. She was working for the city to reclaim vacant land near the Columbus Metropolitan Library. What first appeared to be a long-shot funding appeal to the Motorists Insurance Group paid off.

“It just so happens their CEO at the time was an avid gardener, and he knew what topiary was,” Mason says. 

Two years passed from the time of Mason’s conceptual drawings for the site to the final hedge trim of the finished creation, and the process was not without a few wrinkles. The first set of plants, for instance, was from Pennsylvania and quickly needed to be replaced.

“We went over there, trucked them back here, put them in, and they all died,” he says.

After that, Mason found plants more suited to central Ohio’s weather and the park’s thin soil.

“It just so happens that taxus is a plant that loves that kind of crud to grow in,” he says, recalling the rubble beneath the lot.

Today, 54 figures idle on the green: Some rest against trees, some stroll across the lawn, some float in rowboats on a pond. Mason and Elaine, a longtime gardener herself, did much of the work, although the city now cares for the gardens and trims each sculpture, which are trained around metal forms.

“Underneath all of those pieces there’s a wire framework of the figure,” says Mason, “so people 100 years from now — if it’s still here — will know how to trim it.”

Open daily from sunrise to sunset. 480 E. Town St., Columbus 43215, 614/645-0197, topiarypark.org

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