Magnifique in Montreal: Exhibition of plant sculptures inspires and impresses

Amazing work by Mosaicultures Internationales de Montreal


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MONTREAL -- Who knew Mother Earth was so young -- and so big?

The people of the First Nations, apparently, and the horticulturists and artists of Mosaicultures Internationales de Montreal.

Known as Terre Mere to French-speaking Canadians, the 45-foot-tall figure made with more than 60,000 live plants has been a visitors' favorite since MIM2013 opened in June at the Montreal Botanical Garden. Because the exhibition ends Sept. 29, you'll have to hurry to see her and the 150 other living sculptures that sprout every three or four years upon the 190 acres of this Jardin botanique or others around the world.

If you go

Mosaicultures Internationales de Montreal 2013

Where: Montreal Botanical Garden, 4101 rue Sherbrooke, part of Montreal Space for Life

Hours: 9 a.m.-sunset through Sept. 29; Gardens of Light 9 a.m.-9 p.m. through Nov. 3

Information: www.mosaiculturesinternationales.ca/en or 1-514-872-1400

Tickets: C$29.50, includes Insectarium. A much better deal is the three-day Montreal Museums Pass, C$80, which includes access to more than a dozen museums and unlimited public transit (bus, subway, airport shuttle).

Inspired by the beliefs of the aboriginal tribes that first populated North America, about 25 MIM staffers created a smiling young woman who somehow juggles a waterfall, golden eagle and wild horse in her giant green hands. Her image was shaped by the words of Chief Seattle to U.S. President Franklin Pierce in 1854:

"Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. ... Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. ... The very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors."

Terre Mere doesn't need the New Age music that plays from outdoor speakers to impress. Neither does The Man Who Planted Trees, a 15-foot-tall sculpture of a French shepherd who kneels to tend an oak sapling. His 8-foot shaggy dog looks ready to romp with visitors, and horses and a goat enjoy the stream and forest the man creates in a 1953 tale written by Jean Giono.

MIM didn't invent mosaiculture, but it introduced the practice to Montreal residents and tourists in 2000 when workers in the city's parks, gardens and green spaces department created their first metal-framed figures covered with a geotextile fabric and substrate planted with annuals and perennials. More than 730,000 people visited the exhibition in the city's Old Port over 3 1/2 months. Even more marveled in 2003, in 2006 in Shanghai, China, and in 2009 in Hamamatsu, Japan, whose exhibition drew 865,000 visitors in two months to see works by people from 25 countries. A second version of The Man Who Planted Trees is currently on display at the ninth China International Garden Expo in Beijing, which runs through October.

Mosaiculture is not the same as topiary, which is usually made with shrubs pruned into the shapes of animals, buildings and other objects. These sculptures feature types of alternanthera and other plants grown on frames mixed with plants in beds.

One part of the Montreal exhibition that includes both is Spirits of the Wood, which brings to life creatures from Celtic legend. Cernunnos emerges from a shaded grove of willows with a ram-headed serpent whose striped body seems to undulate above and below ground, surfacing in long curving beds of red and yellow flowers.

Rows of plants are also part of Sharing the Riches of the Land, a mosaiculture created by staff at the Edmundston Botanical Garden in New Brunswick. Partnering with members of the Madawaska Maliseet, they sculpted large figures of a woman sowing seeds, a man hoeing crops and a seated aboriginal woman working on a tribal craft. She is a vivid reminder of Chief Seattle's parting words:

"When the last Red Man shall have perished, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe ... . And when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone."

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Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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