When international sculptor Herb Parker began construction on his nature-based installation in Santa Barbara’s Botanic Garden, he had literally one shovel to work with. The project was scheduled to begin on May 11, less than a week after the Jesusita Fire began consuming acreage and property, including all of the Garden’s horticulture and construction tools. However, with the help of a team of volunteers-who apparently turned a blind eye to the Garden’s ongoing volunteers’ walk-out drama-Parker’s work continued as planned. “I think this project gave [the Botanic Garden staff] a needed focus while the area regrows,” said Parker. “I admire their determination in the wake of such utter devastation.”
Parker’s featured house-like sculpture, which has yet to be named and is in its final stages of completion, sits on the north end of the Garden’s central meadow and rises, quite suddenly, out of the surrounding low-lying foliage. At 30 feet deep, 40 feet across, and 15 feet high, the commanding installation is meant to be viewed-or rather participated in-by walking through one of the two gaping entrances and continuing along a snaking path before eventually arriving at a central site. Inside the quasi-labyrinth, light plays off the dozens of redwood logs that support its “living roof” which, on its underside, is made of sod and, on the surface, is dotted with indigenous plantings that will be changed according to season throughout the two-year lifespan of the structure.
When asked what he would like admirers to take away from his most recent work, Parker responded, “I hope people will obtain a heightened mystical reverence for nature and environment. As people move through [the building] together and meet in the middle they may engage in a dialogue about nature or whatever comes up.” As he discussed the project, the naturalist, sculptor, and teacher (Parker is a professor of art at the College of Charleston) said he couldn’t help but enthuse over Santa Barbara’s unique climate and landscape while working at the Garden, even in light of the area’s recent wildfire. “Once you got over the campfire smell, it was a great place to work.”