Once Was

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Abington Art Center Sculpture Park, Jenkintown, PA
Site maintained from August through October and then left to return to its former state. 2012

Materials & Dimensions:

An abandoned pool, pool house, its environs, living trees, shrubs, and vines growing at the site, deadfall, cut vine, and soil from 30 years of accumulated leaf duff, deadfall, and shrub growth on pool perimeter.
½ acre total approximately

This site-integrated installation coincided with my indoor exhibition Between Perception & Definition. Below the back lawn of Abington Art Center’s Avelthorpe Manor are the remnants of a 30’ x 60’ swimming pool and a stone pool house, built into the hill in 1933, with a pavilion and tennis court above and a broad bluestone path from the road to the pavilion. When the estate was given to Abington Township in 1969, the pool was filled with broken concrete and the building boarded up. Nature then took over to the point that it became impossible to tell that the pool or the bluestone path ever existed. For this installation, I cleared the accumulated soil and growth from the remains of the paving around the pool so that the growth processes that have reclaimed the site are visible. The pool now holds a forest rectangle framed by pavement crossed by the network of tree roots exposed during the clearing. Three mounds of soil at points on the perimeter of the cleared paving give evidence of the volume of soil removed. Deadfall and removed shrubs were use for two debris structures not shown here.

I also reclaimed the bluestone pathway to the pavilion above the pool. This was a forked path that had become covered by six to twelve inches of composted soil and by ground cover plants and shrubs. Invading vines and the disrupting roots of shrubs and trees were left intact during clearing to reveal the process by which nature erases the order of built things.

The pool house porch beneath the pavilion had three doors, all of which had been boarded up as had been the round windows framing the porch. After clearing the porch of debris, I sealed the doors with poplar bark and mica schist inlaid stucco, also used to make seals for the windows. The bark comes from one fallen tree that was a sapling on the manor grounds in 1933 when the pool house was built.

There are two additional underground rooms, one on either side of the porch. These I cleared and gave metal gates to allow view without entrance. The left room was the pool filtration plant. In this I installed vines cut during clearing the pool perimeter.

Images progress from the path to the pool to the porch to the vine room. A large number of features are not shown due to the complexity of the installation.

This installation was the final of a trilogy of installations done for Abington Art Center, all dealing with aspects of the natural history of the site and its impermanence. Nature always erases the order of built things. Maintenance is a form of paying attention. Using clearing to reveal the process of erasure was the basic method for Once Was. To maintain the view once revealed required hours of subsequent weekly clearing. Since this ceased, the site is rapidly reverting. It will soon escape memory once more.