Leland Iron Works is the five-acre art studio and home of Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly, my father. A few years ago I started working for him archiving sixty years of art and managing his property. That’s a lot of art and five acres is a lot of land for a woman who had spent the last twenty years in an office. I had misgivings but he needed the help and I needed the work.
Art and garden in time and place
Leland Iron Works is a farm where the main crop is sculpture. Siting sculpture where it can be viewed by collectors and gallerists requires mowing, manicuring and managing land. Himalayan blackberries? No, thank you. English ivy? Get rid of it. Holly? Hell no. These are some, just some, of the invasive bugaboos that plague Oregon’s zone 8b Willamette Valley. And we have them all.
But art didn’t cover every inch of those five acres, and neither did invasive species. I started a garden, just a few tomatoes at first, planted on the side. Then some beans and garlic. And several hundred square feet later, I’m growing enough onions, potatoes, beans, basil, kale, garlic and tomatoes to keep my family fed for at least a few months every winter. Well, make that weeks; I’m not growing chocolate, coffee, beef, milk or cheese.
But the two halves of the enterprise, art and food, didn’t have much overlap. My dad didn’t exactly scoff at my garden, he grew up on a ranch in Idaho where his grandparents raised all their own meat and vegetables. But I know he looked at the few sunny spots I’d taken over as prime real estate for sculpture now gone to waste. He installed two pieces so close to my raspberries that I have to hold my breath as I walk past.
It felt divided, at odds. The parts of the property that housed art had thin, compacted soil or monocultures of bamboo and Vinca minor. The parts of the property I managed for annuals were pushed to the side. And invasive species were banging at the castle gate to be let in.
I started reading: Toby Hemenway, Sepp Holzer, Masanobu Fukuoka, Carol Deppe, Steve Solomon. And watching: Charles Dowding, One Yard Revolution, MIgardener, Maritime Gardening, Grow Your Greens, Homegrown Veg, and my recent favorite Chickens in My Garden. And listening: Epic Garden, The Survival Podcast, Permaculture Voices, Good Life Revival, Rewild Yourself, and my new crush AshesAshes. Every one of these people emphasized growing soil, conserving water, observing nature, developing a crop, growing perennials, and eating what you grow.
Once I understood this was a five-acre ecosystem, I saw how it could be. Sculpture, perennials, annuals, chickens. Sustainability and celebration, art and beauty. And invasive species? Well, read on and let’s see how it goes.