Four years in the planning, ceramic artist Linda Huey’s “Dark Garden” combines plant forms with the littered remains of man-made products, resulting in a nightmare garden of beautifully crafted grotesques.
In the artist’s words, “This is no ordinary garden.”
Her “somber” courtyard-style garden installation is made of clay plant-like forms — tall stems, thorns, heavy seed pods, torn flower petals, stringy leaves bedecked with impressions of insects, computer parts, and lost toy cars. This garden’s skeletal structure is held together by rusted iron rebar — a common remnant whenever 20th-century structures are torn down or fall apart — that supports 5- to 9-foot plant stems.
To cite Huey’s own inventory of the more than 40 sculptural pieces in her “Dark Garden,” the visitor to this visionary setting finds “flowers with graffiti, broken antennas, barbed wire, caged birds, skeletons, leaves infested with cars, and actual nails and bolts fired into the clay.”
At their base, the plant forms rise from clay slabs representing pieces of a nasty degraded waste-lot earth made of “fossilized trash” and pieces of cellphones.
At the invitation four years ago of former Fuller Craft Museum director Gretchen Keyworth, who was also the museum’s chief curator, Huey began planning a unified exhibit to be installed into the museum’s single-artist gallery.
Fuller Craft board chairwoman Chris Rifkin called the resulting exhibit “outstanding and a testament to her vision and persistence in realizing that vision, down to the tiniest details. I am delighted we gave her the opportunity to explore those ideas and bring them to fruition.”
In a recent talk at the museum, Huey said she looked for a way to draw attention to how our love for the beauty of nature obscures the problems caused by our tendency to take from the landscape, use up natural resources, and discard what we’re done with.
She said the exhibit poses the question of people’s “ambiguous relationship with nature, and how we choose to see or ignore its problems.”
Huey points to the “gnomes and fairies” used to ornament lawns and yards, calling them “popular icons that are supposed to bring good luck to the natural environment.”
“They’re supposed to protect the land,” Huey said at the museum, “but I don’t think they’re doing a very good job.”
A few littered remains of these figures made their way into the dark installation. “Their happy stance,” Huey explained, “symbolizes a denial of environmental concerns. Ignorance is bliss.”
“Littering,” she added, “is the canary in the coal mine.” She sees a continuum between littering and chemical waste, “from plastic cups to carbon emissions.”
The point was borne home to her some years ago, Huey said, when she moved to a quiet neighborhood in Quincy with a small pond behind the houses. But the pond was filled with trash, including large pieces of scrap metal too heavy for anyone to remove by hand, as seen in the slide of the polluted pond she showed during her talk.
An artist with a long career as both a potter and a ceramic sculptor, Huey grows a beautiful garden — real plants, real vegetables — in the home she and her husband, David Dronsick, maintain in rural New York. Huey also commutes frequently to a studio in Boston.
As a working artist, Huey said, she has always been attuned to customer response to her work, from pottery vessels to ceramic pins. She told museumgoers that her pin consisting of nothing but the row of typewriter symbols generally used to suggest swear words has made her more money than anything else she’s made.
“I’ve always been able to sell my work,” she said.
But Huey also tests viewers for what she called “the borders of response. What people want to see [in work about nature] versus what they don’t want to see.”
One test “Dark Garden” poses is its placement in the gallery’s center of a large round white orb, perhaps symbolizing the earth itself. The orb appears to be composed of trash. It’s still a thing of beauty, but a close look at its composition suggests a problem.
In the museum’s catalogue for the show, Christine Temin, an arts writer who formerly worked for the Globe, points to another test for viewers’ response to the exhibit, a tiny white clay bird that sits within a large bowl-shaped blossom with holes in its petals.
“[The bird] augurs for a future where things in nature, if not in the art world, might improve,” Temin writes. “Huey’s title for the animal would be witty if it weren’t so sad: She calls it ‘Optional Bird.’ ”
Robert Knox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.