Yes, there are Calders, Libermans, and Nevelsons gracing the magnificent 500-acre museum scape of Storm King… but what about the artists whose work never makes it past their own backyards?! This weekend I visited my adorable mother-in-law in Springfield, Ohio and she pointed me to just such an artist.
In 1899, Ben Hartman left his home in Pennsylvania to learn mold-making at age 16. At age 30 he settled with his wife and children in Springfield, Ohio to work at the Springfield Machine Tool Company. At age 48, in the middle of the Great Depression, he found himself without a job. Well, that kick in the pants just freed up his days to make a cement fishing pond in the backyard of his modest home on the outskirts of town. And when that was finished, he found he also had the time to create 50 more structures out of cement, stone and accented with shells; in addition to countless handmade figurines which would take up residence in his miniature rockocosm. Where most might envision a lawn, Hartman saw and built a replica of the White House, Betsy Ross’ home, Noah’s Ark, and the Hoover Dam…just to highlight a few.
Seven years later, Mr. Hartman went back to work and, in five years, he had inhaled enough pollutants from the foundry to kill him… the year was 1944. His wife, Mary, diligently worked to keep up her husband’s rock yard, but, after her death in 1997, the place went to rack and ruin until the Kohler Foundation stepped up and gave the city some money to revive the grounds in 2010. (Clearly wasn’t enough to pay for the title cards to identify his creations.)
Hard to believe this was where we would find an art installation.
The entry has the heads of Tecumseh on one side and Columbus on the other atop the white 410-picket fence made entirely of cement that forms an “L” outlining the property.
Barbara Fritchie? She was a Unionist who lived in Frederick, MD who is supposed to be the inspiration behind Whittier’s poem about an encounter with Stonewall Jackson.
Jackson leading his army past her house trying to avoid the Unionists and the garden hose.
Betsy Ross’ home stands between Lincoln’s tomb and a tribute to Hartman’s favorite hymn, Rock of Ages.
Ben used 100,000 stones to create this twelve-foot tall castle complete with a moat and 107 windows.
…and an American flag
Freestanding Liberty Bell complete with crack
His Italian-inspired cathedral stands fourteen feet tall and features a replica of Da Vinci’s Last Supper using Hartman’s figurines (not shown).
This he called his “Cherub Gateway” and is said to be the last thing he built in his yard.
Why include this mule team trudging through Death Valley? Apparently, according to the guide book, he liked the Borax advertisements.
Love the elegant setting for the Springfield Fire Station…jammed right up against the house.
Random “log” cabin colony
Noah’s Ark accepting passengers
And over there, right beyond the castle wall, we have the neighbor’s laundry.
The White House
A detail of one of Hartman’s figures
Holding a town meeting in a shed behind the artist’s house
The guide book claims this is Hartman’s favorite piece… “The Tree of Life” featuring from limb to limb church, state and school with some doves in between to keep the peace. (note the Weber in the background)