Learning from LongHouse: The Open Bowl
by Carrie Rebora Barratt
Director, LongHouse Reserve

As a consummate planner, with huge interest in origin stories and how things change over time with vision and discipline, I am reading everything I can get my hands on and listening widely to anyone who can help me imagine the transformation of abandoned farmland that Jack bought decades ago into the wonder that the LongHouse garden is today.  The farm, left alone since the 1870s, he found “riddled with fallen trees and vines as thick as my wrist.”  As he honored the ancient oaks and nurtured young beeches and high bush blueberries, he thought, planned, looking at both English and Japanese gardens and then did his own thing, famously saying that “I don’t play games with no chance of winning.”  As his garden emerged, planning gave way to opportunistic moments, what he called “the open bowl,” a concept that applies to the plants he introduced, the paths created, and the art that punctuates the landscape.

Open bowl seems obvious, especially at LongHouse which is filled with open vessels—ceramic, wood, basket—so many receptacles for receiving, filling, gathering.  Technically the term open bowl is known to professional players to describe a non-sanctioned game, play without frames or borders.  Open bowl refers to freedom, relaxation of rules, willingness to release control.  The unplanned moment.

In the past two weeks, we saw this happen in the most marvelous way and while I stood in awe, those on staff who have witnessed the open bowl many times just smiled. Even while we are working according to carefully scripted days of gardening, cleaning, scheduled arrival of sculptures, all in anticipation of a planned opening day of April 30, a call came in, a tip that we had to see a sculpture on view at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, just up the block from the Noguchi Museum.  An up and coming artist, Moko Fukuyama, had made a triptyph sculpture out of oaks felled by Hurricane Sandy at the schoolyard at East Woods School in Oyster Bay, Long Island.  She had brought the trunks to Socrates, loved them, polished them, nourished them, painted them, made them into gigantic fishing lures paying homage to Shinto traditions of characters inherent in a landscape. Her so-called Hell Gate Keepers are about abundance of land and sea and life. 

The trick was that we had to see them fast, closing day March 20, before they were sent to storage, a fast dash to Socrates on a Sunday afternoon to meet the artist and her collaborators. Talk about open bowl: the pieces are inspired, the combined origin of the materials from Long Island and homage to Shinto traditions (the same that inspired Jack’s house) too good to be true.  We had one week—seven days—to figure out how to truck nearly 2000 pounds of tree sculpture from Queens to East Hampton.  Against all odds of supply chain delays and traffic jams and uncertainty, the amazing staff at LongHouse jumped on the phone, found a willing trucker who collected the pieces and brought them to us on March 28 (ok eight days). 

Click on the image below and view a video of the biggest piece coming off of the truck, ably guided by our own Bonifacio Rojas while Keaton Laub captures the moment.

And the team riding backwards to move the same piece into place in the photo below (click on the image to view the video).

Come visit us on April 30 to see the completed installation!