A Leaf like no Other

by TOVAH MARTIN

TIM REUWER has always been a science fiction buff, and he confesses to harboring more than your average fondness for fantasy. Perhaps that’s why Reuwers hand-sculpted cement leaves look so good. Wherever possible, he “tweaks reality,” as lie likes to say, using imagination to improve upon nature.

When Reuwer casts leaves in cement, he instills in them a lifelike demeanor. “My goal is that they should look like they’re about to get up and walk away,” he says. His hosta leaves are as curvaceous as the ones in your garden. They ripple and pucker just like the real thing. But Reuwer’s have a golden sheen beyond any luster that hostas normally put on. And you’ve probably never encountered a brunnera leaf with blood-red speckling across its heart—a hybrid with exactly that coloration exists only in Reuwer’s artistic vision.

OUT OF THE SHADE

Although his studio sits smack amid Happy Hollow Nursery, in Cockeysville, Maryland, Reuwer didn’t actually begin to fiddle with plants as art subjects until about four years ago. Not that the necessary love of plants wasn’t in him. Happy Hollow, after all, is his own, a specialty nursery that he’s run with his partner, Sue Bloodgood, for nearly a quarter century. The two started out in daylilies, but switched their focus to shade plants as the property acquired a thick green canopy.

Reuwer and Bloodgood offer all sorts of shade lovers, but Happy Hollow is admittedly heavy on hostas, and they are what first inspired Reuwer to start sculpting leaves. But any kind of plant is game. Some show more promise than others, such as those with distinctive leaf texture. Certain leaves tend to better retain body, and in general spring leaves are more turgid than larger, later season leaves. Reuwer works primarily with hostas, brunneras, and cannas, although he has ventured into begonias, sunflowers, bananas, lotus, and paulownias, too. He’s found that by annually cutting down a paulownia he can encourage the desirably huge leaves typical of new growth. Harvesting is part of the craft and, just as with every garden-related endeavor, timing is everything. “There’s an element of transience to this,” Tim points out, “a leaf might be perfect today, and tomorrow it’ll be pocked with holes.”

A FLASHY FINISH

While each of his sculptures is a unique fingerprint from Happy Hollow Nursery’s garden, Reuwer isn’t the first or only artist to do hand-cast leaves. He found inspiration and instruction from several sources, including Bainbridge Island artists George Little and David Lewis, whose garden art includes cast gunnera leaves. The technique isn’t terribly complex. Reuwer harvests promising leaves (the studio’s nursery setting really comes in handy here) and sets them by laying them in sand, a trick that gives the finished sculptures their lifelike contours. Then he makes an impression of each one in cement.

Reuwer’s unique spin on the craft shows up in the finishes that he painstakingly applies to the cement leaves. After the cement dries, he begins layering coats of paint, adding from three to as many as fifteen layers of color. The final coats serve to highlight the natural geography of each leaf. Reuwer’s finishes have evolved since he first started rendering leaves, becoming more and more whimsical until Reuwer began regularly crossing the fine line between fact and fiction. “At first, I muted them down,” he recalls. “Leaves are basically subtle. But I began painting to bring out their structure. I might take a sunflower and highlight it with more blue or green or yellow. Nothing too garish. But a little garish is good. People react to color.”

Reuwer’s leaves serve as wall plaques, table ornaments, birdbaths, or accents wherever you need a slightly trumped up token from summer. And that’s part of the beauty of Tim Reuwer’s art. Because in the end, you have a glowing, glistening hand-cast souvenir from the garden—one that flourishes, eternally bright, bolstering a gardener’s imagination, no matter the season. H

Where to Find Them

Colibri, 5027 France Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota; 612-285-8467

Happy Hollow Nursery, 12212 Happy Hollow Road, Cockeysville, Maryland; 410-252-4026

Treillage Ltd., 418 East 75th Street, New York, New York; 212-535-2288; www.treillageonline.com

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