Take Heed, All Who Enter: Artist Attempts To Make Missouri's Powell Gardens 'Unearthly'

Jun 27, 2017

A scene of vegetable carnage awaits visitors at Powell Gardens this summer — goblins raiding a patch of squash and onions in the Heartland Harvest Garden, and other mythological beasts rampaging through plots of edible plants.

It's exactly what artist Kendall R. Hart was aiming for when he designed the "Gardens of Myth" exhibit.

“Their pose is the moment of discovery,” said Hart. “I want them to be as real as if you had just noticed them as you turn a corner in the garden.”

The artist Kendall R. Hart and the Japanese Kappa. According to legend, this supernatural, turtle-like monster inhabits bodies of water and is known to have a fondness for cucumbers.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

The seasonal exhibit brings to life the legends and folk tales told around the globe, said Kristy Peterson, Powell Gardens' director of education, outreach and interpretation. It also makes exploring the gardens fun.

“It’s sort of a scavenger hunt for families,” Peterson said. “They’ll take the map and they’ll stroll through the Heartland Harvest Garden looking for the goblins or the unicorn or Bigfoot.”

Hart crafted the sculptures with his team at Grimstone Studios, in Farmington, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. Visiting Kansas City this past weekend, Hart and his family had a chance to experience the works in their finished form.

A Leprechaun guards his pot of treasure. These creatures spring from Irish folklore and are known for their mischievous nature.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

“At night if you were going to go through the garage, you would see lots of monsters and it would be really scary because they would all be looking down at you,” said Hart’s eleven-year-old stepdaughter, Amanda Ropers, remembering the scene in Hart’s home studio.

“They looked much bigger in our garage,” Ropers said. “It’s really cool to see them out here. It’s like they are in their natural habitat.”
 

Caught in the act, this shifty Goblin is raiding a bed of zucchini.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Hart said his creations fit right into their surroundings at Powell Gardens.

“I think mythological creatures absolutely belong in a botanical garden,” he said. “If botanical gardens are done right, they are an unearthly experience.”

Hart has been making movie creatures for private collectors for years, but this was his first public art project on this scale. He created all of the colorful creatures using a mix of foam, epoxy clay and fiberglass over a welded steel armature. It is a process he is still perfecting.
 

Part man and part bull, the Minotaur of Greek legend watches over a garden path.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Making sculptures that are exposed to all the elements 24-hours a day is an immense challenge, Hart said.

“You can only plan to build them as well as you can and you quickly learn the difference between waterproof, weather resistant, weatherproof.”

Hart said the favorite part of his weekend visit was overhearing visitor's reactions.

“I love it: As soon as a kid sees it," he said, "they yell out the name and run right up to it.”

Gardens of Myth, on view through October 22 at Powell Gardens, 1609 N.W. U.S. Highway 50, Kingsville, Missouri, 816-697-2600.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.