Opinion

A genius blooms among the bonsai plants in SK

“Danger, Will Robinson! Warning! Warning! Your sculptures are in danger of being underappreciated in Kitsap County!”

Maybe? Or maybe not?

Maybe we didn’t realize that you, William, son of the mega-talented Dan and Diane Robinson, were the creator of these works of art that we have long admired.

I certainly did not. I would pass the stone sculptures that grace the entrance to the new Kitsap County administration building and gently run my fingers over the stone.

I would take family and friends to Bremerton’s Harborside Fountain Park and marvel over the smoothness of the surfaces of the stone tables and chairs.

We’d sit and lie upon the reclining stones exclaiming in awe how perfectly and comfortably granite molded to our bodies.

One could fall asleep upon stone, we’d say, what a novel concept. We’d look at the tall linear works that looked to be carved from one piece and then pulled apart, like two lovers perfectly matched who had been separated and then joyfully rejoined.

We recognized all of this, but we did not realize that the master stone craftsman who created these wondrous works of art of both form and function lived within our midst.

I did not. It wasn’t until a good friend gave me free VIP passes to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show (complete with a wine and cheese party and afterhours access to the gardens and their creators) that she could not use (Thank you, thank you, Moureen), that I had the happy fortune of talking with Will’s father, Dan.

Standing alongside his award-winning Elandan Garden exhibit he told me that if I was looking for something new to see at the garden I would be impressed with the giant crane capable of lifting 50-ton rocks and the huge saw recently acquired from Japan that could cut them.

It was just a matter of catching up with Will to see what the crane, saw and all this rock would be used for.

That’s no easy task. Will is a man constantly in motion, commandeering a fleet of trucks and drivers that would help his parents tear down and load up their garden show exhibits, maneuvering a handcrafted table with a backhoe and deconstructing an old building to create a place for the saw, all the while envisioning the world of possibilities inherent in giant “glacial erratics” brought from a quarry in Ravensdale.

Working once again with the architectural, urban and landscape design firm, Wet Design, that specializes in water features, and Gary Sexton, designer of the Harborside Fountain Park, Will will cut, polish and transform the granitic, metamorphic stones into stone elements — tables, seats, chairs and sculptures – that will anchor the park set upon Bremerton’s new ferry tunnel.

However you feel about the tunnel, the need or the lack thereof, this park, as envisioned, will be magnificent.

High above the tunnel and traffic, giant fountains will spout in a park designed for pedestrians. Water will gently and effervescently cascade over and down Will’s smooth stone masterpieces.

It will be a sight to see.

“How,” I ask him, thinking of all the naked babies splashing in the fountains at Harborside and the faces of their happy parents, “Do you keep people off the sculptures?”

“We don’t,” he tells me. “They’re made to be interactive. People are supposed to look, touch, feel and sit on them.”

“Wouldn’t you worry,” I insist on asking, “that they will rub away the surface, the way the backs of the Ming Dynasty camels at the Seattle Art Museum have been rubbed clean or even how George Washington’s nose at the Capital Building in Olympia is fading away from all the schoolchildren who like to touch?”

“No,” he patiently explains (and the Robinsons, I discover, are always patient), “the cost of rubbing is worth it, if people find joy in interacting with the work.”

Maybe that’s what brought this kid from North Mason, who studied history at UW, to rock.

It’s hands-on, interactive and potentially so beautiful. When you walk through Elandan Garden, you see Will’s work everywhere.

Mixing in with the ancient bonsai trees and the garden art lovingly placed by his mother, you find sculptures so thoughtful and striking that you are constantly in awe.

Reminiscent of the stone sculptures of the First Nation people of British Columbia, the stone outcroppings make you wonder what it must have felt like to have stumbled upon Stonehedge or Easter Island.

Will Robinson is an artist surrounded by artists in Gorst of all places. (Yes, Gorst has more than just pasties, you know.)

The self-taught stone artisan, like his parents and sister, sees beauty and art everywhere, even in an old granite rock.

He doesn’t use traditional methodology, but like all great sculptors, he lets the rock itself tell him what it hopes to be.

The end results defy words.

His work and that of his father, Dan, are what bring people, like Jesse DeMarcus, from Gig Harbor to the garden. Jesse, a bonsai enthusiast, felt so drawn to Elandan Garden that he felt that he must work there.

You don’t have to be a lover of trees to appreciate the Garden (although, I always appreciate kindred, tree-loving spirits and know that Dan does, too).

No, you can just do what my little art-loving daughter and I would after church on Sunday afternoons. We’d wander through Elandan Garden in the warm sunshine just absorbing the art.

The gift shop itself is unlike anything you will find anywhere. There are antiques and treasures from all around the world, from stone plates from Morocco (We actually ate at a Moroccan restaurant on the way to the Flower and Garden Show. It was way cool!) and little serving dishes from Japan shaped like gingko leaves to birds’ nests and natural sponges and giant sea shells and the list goes on. Diane searches the world for unique and magnificent pieces of art of all shapes and sizes.

Working with jewelry artists, Audrey Daniels and Michael Michaud, she has one-of-a-kind pieces designed specifically for Elandan Garden. It’s amazing what you can find there.

Like I said, my daughter and I could be lost in the shop for hours, discovering treasures at every turn.

The Garden seems to inspire art and the artist within. The Robinsons’ daughter, Shanna Neims, runs an interior design business, Elandan Interiors, from a room in the shop and I am greeted by photographer and painter, Abdel, who mans the place while Diane and Dan finish up at the Flower and Garden Show.

The Robinsons are why I really love to write this column. I love finding your genius in tiny, little corners and parcels of South Kitsap.

It makes me live in awe of you, wondering always, “If we are surrounded by so much, if we can live within the midst of so much genius, what must the rest of the world be like?”

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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