Kate Lambeth had been hanging John Newman’s nature photos at Inter_Section Gallery, the art space she owns on Trade Street, on a recent Thursday afternoon as she prepared for a new installation before the First Friday Gallery Hop.
She laid a level along the top to get a read. She asked
Newman whether there should be anything hanging from
the columns between the photos. And then she stripped
down to an undershirt.
“Is it cocktail hour yet?” she asked.
“Just give me a beer drip,” Newman responded.
The gallery had the look of a landscaping job site, which
it was in a way. John Long, who works with Newman,
had laid a serpentine retaining wall from natural fi eldstone
that contained a dwarf white pine in the window display
case. On the other side, Ian Byers was putting the fi nishing
touches on a mosaic installation.
Newman has worked as a landscaper for about 25 years,
but this is his second or third career.
He studied church music
in college, and then went to law school. Throughout the
10 years Newman practiced law he gardened as a hobby,
and eventually he decided to make it his vocation.
Newman’s work can be seen by the public outside
the William G. White Jr. Family YMCA at Hanes Park,
where his waterfall mimics a mountainside stream
fl anked by hemlock rhododendron and mountain laurel.
Now his work can also be appreciated in a gallery
To complete the connection between nature and art, the exhibit, which is entitled Yadkin Refl ections, showcases Newman and Long’s landscaping work with Byers, whose water-themed stone mosaics also grace the Y, fountain-maker Ethan Smith and photographer Christine Rucker. The Yadkin River is a subject of much of Rucker’s work. “The whole theme of the show is about how the natural scenery of northwest North Carolina inspires our work,” Newman said.
Newman pointed to a photo he took of a hemlock tree with a tenacious purchase on an outcropping at Hanging Rock. The photo rested on the fl oor, ready to be hung. In front of it rested an oversized pot containing a dwarf hemlock and rocks.
Translating the grandeur of Hanging Rock into the contained space
of someone’s backyard is a matter of “using the same fundamental elements
of stones and sculpted trees and the allusion to water” through
the arrangements of pebbles, Newman said.
His passion for landscaping began with collecting plants. His sense
of style grew out of tackling a practical challenge of presenting the
greatest variety of plants possible while still maintaining a sense of
“How do you present things in a way that presents them to the best
advantage?” Newman said. “This is what bonsai is all about. What’s
the difference between a nursery plant and bonsai? It’s all about
how it’s presented and what it’s presented in juxtaposition with or in
He uses triangular designs — for example, a pine tree, a stone and an azalea — to create a sense of relationship. “It’s very much about creating an emotional response,” Newman said, commenting on the connection between nature and art. “And typically it’s a calming response.” Newman paused to catch his breath.
“It seemed like it was going to be so easy to set up this installation,” he said. “We thought, ‘Hey, it’s March, we won’t have much going on.’ And then it turns out we get this beautiful weather.”