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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Mary's Garden, by Tina and Carson Kugler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Over the next few days,
they found another
scrap here,
another jumbled lump

Mary loved to
collect things
she found."

I recently spent a wonderful weekend with four fine friends in London, Ontario. It afforded us the opportunity to take a couple of short day trips around southern Ontario and pay impromptu visits to a few new spots. One was a large outdoor garden, designed and added to on a yearly basis. It was very peaceful, filled with plants and object art reflecting the artist's desire to have his visitors leave a littler happier than when they arrived. It worked its magic on the five of us. It reminded me of this picture book biography I had read just prior to leaving on holiday.

Mary Nohl was born an artist. From an early age she loved making things, and she loved to draw. 
Her big ideas led her to projects in woodworking, helping her father build a house near Lake Michigan, where she continued to live until her death. While traveling the world, she loved to draw the things she was seeing.

The long Wisconsin winters made her long for the bright colors that had been a part of her travels. She created art to bring color to the inside. But, it wasn't until she was wandering the beach near her home that she began to see what she might construct from 'found items' for placement in her garden. Mixing cement as her father had shown her, she built and decorated structures using what she so eagerly collected.

Her garden attracted many visitors, as well as some detractors. Luckily, Mary did not make her art for anyone but herself. When some of her pieces were vandalized, she just used what was left to create another unusual structure. Her home remains a legacy today to her life's work.

Perfect fare for aspiring artists, this is a book that will be appreciated for the story it tells and for the inspiration it provides. An author's note offers additional information, and explains the controversy that has often been associated with Mary's garden.

Mixed media artwork captures the joy the garden provided for Mary. Using traditional watercolor with digital painting, collage and vintage papers, the Kuglers show their young readers the transformation that took place over the years as Mary worked to create these works from her abundant imagination.                                                                                 

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