ISSUE 95  |  Southern Gothic

Grace Knowlton in the Garden

October 31, 2013 1:00 PM

BY Lindsey Taylor

Artist Grace Knowlton really can’t say what first compelled her to create sculptural balls in the early ’70s. But whatever it was that inspired her to manipulate clay and concrete into organic spheres, her passion has not faded. At her first solo show in Soho, NY in the early ’80s, all five of her large spheres were purchased for the Newark Museum sculpture garden. From there, the attention and interest in her work began. At 81 years old, she is still filling commissions for her “balls” both for private and public collections around the world. 

Photographs by Maria Robledo.

Above: Concrete and clay balls on Grace’s property. 

I tracked Grace down after seeing her work a few years ago at Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton, NY, at the garden and home of textile artist Jack Larsen that is open to the public. I loved the way the concrete on wire mesh balls sat so peacefully in the landscape.

Above: Glazed clay balls from the ’70s outside one of the studios on the property.

They seemed to me the perfect outdoor sculpture, just the right balance of the natural and the handmade. She invited me to visit with her at her bucolic compound-like setting in Snedens Landing, NY. The four-acre property–dotted with mature magnolia and dogwood trees, as well as a majestic Persian ironwood tree and charming outbuildings that are rented studio spaces for potters Jane Herold and Joan Platt and painter Nick Ghiz–is transporting.

Above: The ornamental grass garden by James van Sweden.

The late landscape architect James van Sweden was a friend and helped her design a relaxed ornamental grass garden in front of her 19th century barn turned home.

Above: Grace holding a rubber dog toy and a small glazed clay ball.

Grace’s sense of humor is what comes through right away when you meet her. While I was visiting, she picked up an old tennis ball with only the rubber inside intact and inspecting it with her artist’s eye notived it looked surprisingly like one of her pieces. She laughed and said, “Perhaps this is all that inspires me, an old rubber dog toy?”

Above: Large glazed clay ball outside the painters’ studio.

Lately she has been playing with Corten steel, creating sculptures she calls “drawings in space.” Her home is filled with her art. Her drawings cover the walls and projects in various stages of completion fill the surfaces. 

Above: A view inside Grace Knowlton’s home.

Above: Unfinished works in Grace’s house studio; the art critic Michael Brenson described them as boulders one comes upon in the landscape “as suddenly as meteors or comets.”

Above: Grace Knowlton in her garden.

Above: “Twist,” a drawing in space, is a new work by Knowlton in Corten steel.

Anxious to peek inside the gates of other inspiring gardens? See all of our Garden Visits.