I keep my eyes peeled for them whenever I’m behind the wheel or walking along a street. They never fail to elicit a smile, or cause me to pause with a mind-bending thought. Poised somewhere between high art and the kitsch of mass produced lawn ornaments, homemade yard sculptures are a delight of travel. They may be in the form of a common object like an airplane or a human figure. Some are abstract. Fabricated of metal, wood, plastic and other substances, they can be made of new, recycled or natural materials.
Yard sculptures often have universal resonance, whether they recall the monolithic statues of Easter Island, or childhood memories elicited by a giant paper airplane caught in a tree. Sometimes they have meanings known only to locals, like the large candy-striped letter “Z” that sits atop a tall tree stump beside a home on a Hadley, Massachusetts back road. Such objects, expressing the enthusiasms of the people who created them, exhibit whimsy and playfulness, and help relieve us of common expectations in our familiar countryside.
Typically on a front lawn, but sometimes elevated in a tree or alongside a house, yard sculptures are distinct statements by a property’s inhabitants. While creativity can flourish even within the rigid conventions of lawns, flowers, and foundation plants fronting a house, this kind of homespun folk art grabs attention like no ornamental planting. They add interest to an otherwise mundane drive or ordinary landscape.
Some yard sculptures are seasonal. Among the most popular ones during winter are ersatz snowmen that never melt. I’ve seen them made out of everything from round slices of tree trunk placed on edge and stacked on top of each other, to one in the form of old vehicle tires painted white. Just like those made from snow, they are usually decorated with a hat, scarf, and other accoutrements.
The eye-grabbing power of uniquely hand crafted yard sculptures has not gone unnoticed by savvy small businesses. Among my favorites is a robot made from a shop vacuum, galvanized pail, glass lampshade, and plastic hoses used to draw trade to a small gift shop. Another is a human figure made of old metal pieces that is carrying sap buckets in front of a New Hampshire sugarhouse.
Wherever you live, you needn’t go far to find intriguing yard sculptures. They represent the original thoughts and creative expressions of our neighbors, people you might not suspect of harboring such talent. Often ephemeral and changing, they are limited only by boundless imagination. Looking for them can be a game enlivening even the dullest trip. They add an unexpected, homegrown, ad hoc element of surprise to an increasingly mass produced, corporate, and overly planned world.