Artists Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg have been recycling for more than 50 years — incorporating found objects into murals and sculptures for public buildings.
Their personal collection of art and found objects, however, were scattered around their property in the Little Applegate, so they decided they needed a more formal way to display the works.
"Our art is collage in concrete, traditional mosaic plus ceramic pieces, plus found objects like stones, shells and glass," says Lilli Ann. "We didn't want to add another structure, and everything we make is concrete and made for out of doors. Rain just washes it clean. It seemed simple to use an outdoor space."
Which is just what they did, creating an outdoor art gallery that shows their art the way it was meant to be shown.
The previous owner of their home, author Richard Bach, had cleared the top of the property, planning to capitalize on its 360-degree view for his future home. But Bach wound up building only a small guest house.
The Rosenbergs fell in love with the view and decided to make do with the guest house. They used the prime hilltop location for their 30-by-30-foot studio, and their new gallery hugs the outside walls.
The approach to the gallery from the parking area below is now up a wide, curved stair that is a work of art in itself. The stair is a variation on their sculptures, made of rough, textured, tinted concrete with drawings of birds and whimsical inserts of ceramic and glass.
Rather than making the steps all the same color, they used three different earth tones, alternating as the steps stretch 20 feet up the hill. The steps are 4 feet wide and 26 inches deep at the bottom — and framed with pressure-treated 6-by-6s — gradually widening to 6 feet wide at the top where they meet a new deck.
The deck, which opens up the view to the west and its sunsets, houses several of their smaller stone and concrete sculptures, birds and fish about 3 feet tall. It is also home to some of their found art.
The Rosenbergs lived in New York and Boston at a time when many old buildings were being torn down, and they have a collection of old building ornaments they rescued from trash piles. On the deck are carved stone plinths and cast-iron balustrades from some of those old buildings, as well as a carved stone head that was once the keystone of a building arch.
One wall of their outdoor gallery now displays some of their one-of-a-kind, century-old iron, some of which has been incorporated into some of their sculptures.
"I think the old stuff is so amazing," Lilli Ann says, "they are so beautiful, and you can preserve them by incorporating them into artwork."
Just in from the new deck, an outside alcove in the corner of their studio building — which had been used for storage — was fitted with walls and painted in warm earth tones. Corrugated fiberglass roofing allows pieces that need a little protection from the elements to be displayed, including Marvin's mirrored wall plaques and some of Lilli Ann's pottery.
Gravel covers the floor, differentiating the space from the slate tiles of the walkway.
Along this walkway, around the side of the studio, are several more large, standing sculptures against the backdrop of plantings in raised beds. One of the stone beds incorporates marble someone gave them from the front desk of the old Medford Hotel.
South of the studio they cleared more space, bringing in rocks to make planters for new shade trees. Gravel covers the area where they will be able to display works in progress. Five of their older sculptures have pride of place, including an orange one that was Lilli Ann's first standing sculpture, a large curved piece decorated with pressed leaves fired into ceramic and a butterfly with inset glass insulators.
"Most of our work has always been making public art," Lilli Ann says. "Our satisfaction is doing artwork in schools or in hospitals where it contributes to the healing environment ... art that has purpose and function."
"I personally believe that art should have a place in our environment," Lilli Ann says. "When you think about it — the Egyptians and Greeks, their art has survived because it was essential to their lives."
Art is obviously essential to the Rosenbergs' lives, and now they have a suitable way to showcase both their own and their salvaged pieces.