‘Garden of Glass’ at Missouri Botanical Gardens promises whimsy by day, drama by night | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Garden of Glass’ at Missouri Botanical Gardens promises whimsy by day, drama by night

May 11, 2017

The Missouri Botanical Garden has been growing something new this week that doesn’t require water or fertilizer.

A display opening Saturday will fill the garden’s Climatron with glass sculpture. ‘Garden of Glass’ consists of 30 designs featuring flowers, butterflies and free-form pieces by artist Craig Mitchell Smith.

Smith designed the exhibit especially for the Garden, with a goal of catching the eye without stealing nature’s thunder.

“I want these pieces to look as if they organically grew here,” Smith said. “I want people to appreciate the garden as much as they’re appreciating the work.”

‘Painting with glass’

Smith, who lives and works in Lansing, Michighan, got to St. Louis’ Botanical Garden by way of Orlando.

More than a year ago, Smith packed up an exhibition at Disney’s Epcot Center, then drove home through St. Louis by mistake.  Once he realized where he was, he had to make one special stop.

“Everyone knows about the Botanical Garden in St. Louis,” Smith said.

He opened up his truck and invited Garden officials to go through the Epcot display, bundled up in pieces, to see if there was any interest.

“They said, ‘Oh, I’ve not seen work like this.’ And that was the whole idea,” Smith said.

Craig Mitchell Smith designed his pieces to blend in with surroundings plants.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In 2006, the Garden displayed the work of artist Dale Chihuly. Chihuly’s art is made of blown glass. But Smith’s process is different; it involves cutting and fusing glass pieces together in a kiln.

“My staff and I cut the glass in the shape of brush strokes and imagine that we are painting with glass,” he said. “Basically, I consider these origami paintings.”  

Like ‘Willy Wonka?’

Installation of this and Smith’s previous exhibitions can be tricky. Just in case something breaks, he brings along spare parts.

“We include at least 10 percent extra glass for each and every piece,” Smith said.

Special illumination is included in the design to make nighttime viewing a more dramatic experience.

“There will be brilliant lighting from above and below, on the glass, itself,” he said.

One of Smith's 30 pieces sits over a pond in the Climatron.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Smith works with three people to create his art, including this custom exhibition for the Botanical Garden. Garden workers have been installing it here all week, under Smith’s direction. Several designs float high above the Climatron floor. You won't find Smith up there.

“It says in my contract that I don’t have to do heights,” Smith said.

All of Smith's pieces in the display are for sale. Additional, small items are available in the Garden's gift shop.

Smith hopes his “Garden of Glass” display will allow visitors to let go of their worries and experience a few minutes of joy.

“I hope they are enthralled by the show. It’s a happy show,” Smith said. “I want people to walk in the entrance and feel like the children who just walked into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.” 

If you go:

‘Garden of Glass’ at the Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd.

May 13-Aug. 13

$17/adults, $7/children. For Garden members, $5/adults, $4 children

Tickets available online or at the Garden

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL