Monumental metal origami adorns Atlanta Botanical Garden

Everyone calls it Pegasus, even creator Kevin Box, but the real name is Hero’s Horse, to emphasize the universal hero’s quest, Box said. It’s among the most striking pieces in Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16.
Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

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Everyone calls it Pegasus, even creator Kevin Box, but the real name is Hero’s Horse, to emphasize the universal hero’s quest, Box said. It’s among the most striking pieces in Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16. Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Behind the striking beauty of ‘Origami in the Garden.’

Folks strolling the Atlanta Botanical Garden this summer can’t help but goggle at the humongous metal sculptures sprinkled throughout: a bouquet of flowers rises more than 30 feet out of a fountain, a similarly impressive tower of cranes reaches skyward, and a 7,500-pound gleaming white Pegasus is poised to take flight above the trees of Midtown.

Even the ABG’s beloved topiary Earth Goddess gets into the act, cradling a metal peace crane in her outstretched hand.

They’re among the 70 graceful metal renderings of origami birds, butterflies and flowers spread among 19 installations by artist Kevin Box’s new “Origami in the Garden” exhibition.

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Kevin Box likes giving whimsical titles to his metal sculptures. He calls this one Scents of Gratitude. The enormous bouquet is part of Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16. Courtesy Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Credit: Handout

Kevin Box likes giving whimsical titles to his metal sculptures. He calls this one Scents of Gratitude. The enormous bouquet is part of Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16. Courtesy Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Credit: Handout

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Kevin Box likes giving whimsical titles to his metal sculptures. He calls this one Scents of Gratitude. The enormous bouquet is part of Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16. Courtesy Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“There’s just this amazing thing that happens when you put artwork in a garden,” said Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of ABG, the 30-acre urban oasis adjacent to Piedmont Park. The importance of flashy art installations in the garden goes back to 2004, when ABG caused a popular sensation with an exhibit of glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly.

She had seen Box’s work exhibited at other gardens, but always on a smaller scale, and ABG’s exhibits tend toward the Brobdignanian. So she convinced Box to go bigger, and he created new, much larger metal sculptures.

“His previous work was more in the six-foot range,” Matheson said. “We needed a couple of monumental pieces to carry the show. The other thing he added was color. A lot of his work was white because it comes from paper. He really amped it up with color.”

The connection is obvious once it’s explained. “Origami is made from paper, and paper is made from plants, so in many ways that ties into the botanical garden’s mission,” Box said.

Box hopes that once visitors have had their fill of the eye-popping masses of metal outside, they’ll spend a few moments inside the Gardenhouse, where the Inside Out exhibit explains how Box creates his sculptures.

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Most of the Origami in the Garden exhibit is outdoors, but these butterflies hang in the Fuqua Conservatory. Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Handout

Most of the Origami in the Garden exhibit is outdoors, but these butterflies hang in the Fuqua Conservatory.
Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Handout

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Most of the Origami in the Garden exhibit is outdoors, but these butterflies hang in the Fuqua Conservatory. Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

He starts with normal sized origami, elaborate shapes folded according to the Japanese art form from a single square piece of paper, executed by him and several collaborators. Then he scales them up and casts and welds them in bronze, aluminum or stainless steel, a process that takes about 12 weeks.

When he unfolds the original paper, it shows the web of complex creasings, and it’s those unfoldings that hang on the walls of Gardenhouse and show the process.

“We can make anything out of a single square of paper,” Box explained. “And at the end of that process we can unfold that paper to see the record of choices that were made, this beauty and complexity that were beneath the surface. To me that is fully represented when we unfold the origami.

“When people ask what attracted me to origami, that room is the answer to my question,” he continued. “Origami is a metaphor that can tell the story of creativity, starting with the blank slate, and describing the creative challenge we all have: How do you make something out of nothing?”

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The peace crane is probably the most familiar origami creation, and Master Peace stacks 500 of them in a tower. The tower is set in a fountain with a reflecting pool, so 500 more cranes are reflected back. It’s part of Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16. Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Handout

The peace crane is probably the most familiar origami creation, and Master Peace stacks 500 of them in a tower. The tower is set in a fountain with a reflecting pool, so 500 more cranes are reflected back. It’s part of Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16.
Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
The peace crane is probably the most familiar origami creation, and Master Peace stacks 500 of them in a tower. The tower is set in a fountain with a reflecting pool, so 500 more cranes are reflected back. It’s part of Origami in the Garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden through Oct. 16. Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Although Box grew up in Oklahoma and now has his studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, his family’s roots are in Atlanta. His mother’s family lives here, and when he realized he had artistic talent, he apprenticed as a teen at the industrial design firm run by his uncle, Frank Golley, a Georgia Tech professor. After getting his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he decided he wanted to work with metal sculpting, and got his first job sweeping floors and learning everything he could at Inferno Art Foundry in Union City south of Atlanta.

Key to Box’s success is his wife Jennifer, listed as co-creator of the exhibit. She is his “creative and administrative partner,” handling the administrative end of a fairly large enterprise.

“Origami in the Garden” began in 2014 at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. Since then, it has traveled to 17 public gardens and museums around the country and has been seen by more than 2 million people. But the ABG show, designed specifically for Atlanta, is by far his biggest yet.

“Every piece was designed to fit on a tractor-trailer. It took six tractor-trailers to move it here from Santa Fe,” he said.

“Normally it’s a lot on me to solve the installation problems,” he continued. “But Atlanta Botanical Garden has a great, very experienced team of rigging crews and contractors who know the garden and all the paths.

“I watched the crane that erected the Pegasus and the bouquet, and there were times when it was literally within an inch of clearance of being able to turn a corner to get where it needed to go. To be honest I was in awe.”

Now it’s visitors’ turn.


IF YOU GO

Origami in the Garden

Through Oct. 16. $21.95-$49.95. Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-876-5859, atlantabg.org.