Big Rocking

Art in the park

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Over the years, I’ve found that the best time to visit the Big Rock Garden Park is when I’m showing it to someone who’s never been there before.

Such was the case last Sunday, when my guy and I met an old friend, Texas, and her two-year-old daughter for an afternoon tour.

Although she’s spent a significant amount of time in Bellingham, Texas told me that not only had she never visited the 2.5-acre sculpture garden, but she’d also never even heard about it.

While taking care not to fault my friend for her lack of knowledge about the evergreen-shrouded art nook, I pointed out that the beauteous haven has been drawing appreciators of both art and nature since the Drake family founded “Gardens of Art” in 1981.

The City of Bellingham purchased the property in 1993, and, since then, a team of volunteers has helped guide the park’s ongoing development. Sculpture Northwest, a nonprofit promoting cultural tourism in the region through the promotion of opportunities to view and purchase outdoor sculptures, also has a hand in helping keep the artistic side of Big Rock Garden Park flourishing.

In tandem with the Sculptors’ Society of British Columbia and the City of Bellingham, Sculpture Northwest has been hard at work in the past weeks bringing a “Tribute to David Marshall” exhibit to Big Rock in time for its annual Mother’s Day blowout.

The exhibit joins the 30-plus permanent sculptures on display at the outdoor gallery and features a variety of pieces by Marshall, a now-deceased Canadian sculptor who was one of the founders of the program of annual exhibits in Big Rock Garden Park more than 25 years ago. (The exhibit also features works by artists who worked with or studied with Marshall.)

Although not every piece was installed yet, our small group managed to get a sneak peek at what viewers who’ll be attending both the opening ceremony May 9 and the Mother’s Day extravaganza May 12 will see. Pieces both gigantic—I’m talking four-plus-tons gigantic—and small in scale adorned a significant portion of the lower space of the garden, and I can report that visitors are in for a treat.

Throughout our foray, which included just about every inch of the park, Texas kept stopping to take pictures of the way the sun-dappled leaves highlighted the bronze, metal and stone sculptures both on the main path and in a variety of nooks and crannies. Our youngest member handily posed in front of anything we wanted her to, giving a “thumbs-up” to those pieces that seemed to move her.

Given the beauty of our surroundings—which were helped by a 70-plus-degree day and oodles of sunshine—we had a hard time leaving, and paused near the gazebo for a while to feed the kid snacks and watch small groups of humans “ooh” and “aah” over the sculptures and the blooms.

Before we left, Texas told me the next time her mom visited, she was going to bring her to Big Rock Garden Park to show off one of Bellingham’s gems. I told her I’d be happy to come along.

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