January was named in honor of Janus, the two-faced Roman god of endings and beginnings. On this, the first day of 2014, I mourn an ending and welcome a beginning.

In mourning

Our modern age says chaos reigns: entropy, Heisenberg’s uncertainty, Max Planck, quantum mechanics. But our hearts are not mere quanta, empty and full; we yearn for the ancient premise of a perfect universe in perfect harmony.

My friend, Vladimir Barsukov, died suddenly on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. We knew him as a student and teacher of kinetic art, perpetual mobiles. Vladimir said: “I’ve always been fascinated with beautiful and functional objects that rely on basic principles of mechanics and geometry. The movements remind the viewer of the fragility and interconnectedness of life.”

Born in Russia, January 21, 1945, and educated as a mathematician and physicist (Ph.D. Saint Petersburg University, 1967), he was a researcher and teacher at MIT from 1990 – 2005, and maintained a passion for mobile making throughout his life.

Vladimir was an artist, a dreamer, and a restless seeker. His childlike vision delighted in everyday things –

forks, spoons, as well as textures, shapes, colors and materials of all kinds. Infinitely curious and unabashed, he touched every object he encountered at the Marshfield Festival of the Arts with us in May 2011, querying vendors about their designs, finishes and techniques – an alchemist exploring another clue.

He thought, he taught, he labored and questioned. He balanced shapes and wires in marvelous symmetry; his mobiles were like living creatures to him, continually moving and changing in space, light and color.

I was among his many students, who marveled at the simple joy he taught of balancing and bringing to life the elements of kinetic sculpture. He shared his talent and taught with wit and a contagious love of knowledge. Vladimir was the universal man. Scientist and spiritualist, cynic and romantic, outsider and world citizen. He worshiped at the alter of insight, harmony and balance – literally juxtaposing opposing forces to create a world in balance.

He trafficked in the music of the spheres and conjured up a universe in harmony — both science and art fully realized. Vladimir once said “Through my work I have discovered what many others have noticed: that precise science and art both reflect nature in a beautiful and elegant way.” Amen, brother.


sarabande-winter-2010In my winter garden, Vladimir’s “Sarabande” still celebrates his presence. In motion.

Here he and his wife, Ann Dix, install Sarabande in my garden, October, 2010.


Ryan Flynn visits our house frequently with our granddaughter, Maisy, whom Vladimir adored. Ryan offered this:

May he make heaven a little cooler with his sculptures.

Besides our sadness, our thoughts are with Ann, who has lost an irreplaceable partner. I am grateful to her for sharing her saddest of news. It was an honor to be Vladimir’s friend.

Kensington Stone Braithwaite

Forward-facing Janus celebrates our new grandson, Kensington Stone Braithwaite, born October 3, 2013 to Kristin Stone Braithwaite and Kenyatta Braithwaite. He arrived at 1:19am weighing 8 pounds, 2 ounces, at 20.5 inches tall with a very full head of hair, kind of Valentino style.

He was dressed for the new year in typical Braithwaite style. We are thrilled with our newest family member.


Tin Man Garden Art

Tin Man overlooks the garden, standing near its wooded, western edge. He is flanked by two Tupelo trees and footed by woodland perennials: ferns, trillium, Lenten Rose (helleborus),

and viney ground cover (ajuga reptans). Hint: Don’t ever plant Bugleweed – ajuga. Ever.)

The Tin Man Cometh

Tin Man was created by Peter Beals, an auto body repair man from Kingston, Massachusetts. I purchased his work

at the annual North River Arts Society (NRAS) Festival of the Arts in Marshfield Hills, MA because it appealed to a grand whimsy and the price was right. Standing over 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall, Tin Man has occupied his outpost in my garden since June 2, 2006.

He debuted at the garden party celebrating Kenyatta Braithwaite’s (Weymouth, MA) academic success. I had to disrupt NRAS protocol to liberate Tin Man in advance from the Festival; accomplished with support from our friend and NRAS kingpin, David Brega, just in time for Keny’s party.  Tin Man has attended all of our backyard events ever since.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis*

Gazing across the quiet garden he is stalwart, with a look of permanence and solidity.

But his profile reveals another truth – Tin Man is shallow and insubstantial. Almost two-dimensional, like Flat Stanley.

He takes our parties seriously. He attracts attention, yes, and teasing. But teasers poke fun fondly and he’s never offended.

*Ars longa, vita brevis (Hippocrates), commonly translated as “art is long, life is short.”

Tin Man Zeitgeist

Postured, impermanent, intent, revealing and deceiving. Tin Man was one of the first non-functional additions to my garden. He has his own story and he’s sticking to it. What story does your garden have? Share it!

Sarabande: Kinetic Garden Art

Sarabande is a mobile – kinetic art made from copper, bronze and aluminum, standing six feet tall with a six foot radius. She was conceived to replace a withered dwarf maple that once stood in the center of the garden. Whimsical wind mobiles, like garden sculptures, provide vertical and horizontal contrast — plus movement — to the surrounding perennials.

A Garden Dancer Comes to Life

Named for the courtly dance and musical movement from the Baroque era, Sarabande is the work of kinetic artist, Vladimir Barsukov (Perpetual Mobiles) from whom I took a mobile-making class in November, 2009. You might think of Alexander Calder, an American mobile artist whose work is in the Guggenheim Museum (NYC).

Sarabande was almost a year in the making because Barsukov had to experiment with ideas and materials that would scale to larger proportions and perform well outdoors – wind mobiles can have a rougher life. Barsukov invented a sturdy pivot to give the mobile the needed “degrees of freedom.”

Besides freedom of movement, a mobile requires precisely balanced elements that communicate with each other, and sensitivity to slight, animating air movements.
Outdoors, a mobile must maintain its responsiveness while coping with extremes of wind, weather and elements; it must float on gentle breezes and ride out coastal gales. And do it all gracefully.

Installing the Mobile

I saw the first prototype at Barsukov’s Cambridge studio in July, 2010. While the artist completed the final design, I had to figure out how to keep a mobile garden sculpture permanently straight and plumb.  Googling

Install flag pole” gave me a suitable plan — I used: a post hole digger, gravel, concrete mix, wooden brace, with a carpenter’s level to set the holding tube in a solid base, and… voila! I had a stable home for my mobile (a mobile home?).

The dwarf maple stood leafless in its last years. Stark and twiggy, it became a favorite perch for small birds. Chickadees and humming birds would alight on the end of a tiny dead branch to rest; it was our snag tree. It toppled of its own accord just before Sarabande’s installation on October 30, 2010. Sarabande was too broad for that spot so we installed her farther back, overhanging the dwarf mountain laurel (kalmia latifolia v. ‘Elf’), Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) and daphne. Originally a backyard patio idea, Sarabande moves gently and more subtly far away, where her long arm and large sweep complement her surroundings.

Reflections on Sarabande

As a foray in garden art, Sarabande makes quite a statement. A captive prima ballerina, both  sturdy and lithe. Across the garden stands Tin Man looking on. In the spring, when the woods behind fill in with green, I may install a reflective background to highlight Sarabande’s dance-like movement.  Here’s one idea I’m thinking of, using mirrored window panes:

With Sarabande, Tin Man now has a garden partner.Tin Man - by Peter Beals, Kingston MA
What moves your garden? Share the vision.