Reflecting nature's beauty

by Jan Spann

Since the 13th century, gazing balls have graced gardens across the globe. The earliest records indicate that Italian artisans crafted the first spheres from mouth-blown glass.

Supposedly wielding mystical powers, these beautiful orbs were found in many royal gardens in Europe. Kings from the Netherlands to France demanded garden globes, believing they possessed good luck and would bring prosperity while warding off bad things like disease, evil spirits and attackers. Renaissance philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon remarked in the 16th century that a “proper garden would have colored balls for the sun to play upon.”

The beautiful globes became a standard fixture in Victorian English gardens, as couples in the courting process could look at one another’s reflection in the gazing ball. Proper etiquette prohibited a gentleman from gazing directly into his beloved’s eyes, as that would be scandalous.

These garden ornaments made their way to America in the early 20th century and signified a homeowner’s wealthy status. Today, these lovely orbs offer a bit of art in today’s garden. Gazing balls come in varying sizes, from 2 to 22 inches in diameter. Modern gazing balls are made of glass, as well as stainless steel, ceramic or stained glass.

Gazing balls can be set up on wrought iron or plaster stands at various heights to provide color, shape and interest in the garden. You can now find an assortment of styles at home centers, or you can set out to make your own or find an artist who will do it for you.

Kandy Jones of North Little Rock is known as the Garage Sale Queen, and she is an expert at the art of recycling. Not only does she teach Mosaics and Hypertufa at the Arkansas Arts Center Museum, Jones’ work can be found as public art commissions at Garvan Woodland Gardens, the Clinton Museum Store and the Little Rock River Market.

In her frequent appearances on KATV’s Saturday Daybreak, the Garage Sale Queen shows cheap ways to utilize found objects (junk) and create garden art, personalized gifts, home accessories and sculpture from pieces of our lives.

According to Jones, “Basically, I’m just a Redneck Martha Stewart! I like to create something that moves, converses with, surprises and even amuses the viewer.” She also encourages her students to find their inner child to fuel their imagination using pieces of their lives.

For more than 10 years, Jones has held classes and workshops in her backyard as well as around the state. Her most recent artwork earned first place as the 2013 Peoples Choice Award at the Arkansas Sculpture Invitational. Flamboyant Fiona is a 6-by-7-foot long flat life-size mannequin with movable joints. Kandy’s husband made a pattern of it, Jones created a mermaid named Simply Smashing. This sensuous swimmer has mosaic flowers on the front, pearls for its hair and scales made from old CDs. (This year’s show and sale will be June 21-22 at the Argenta Community Theater, 405 Main St. in North Little Rock.)

Jones’ latest project will be a series of 16 sculptures using the Flamboyant Fiona pattern.

The series will focus on women in creative fields: a painter, florist, architect, mom, geek, gardener, writer and teacher. She will be collecting materials from women in those fields so that her consistent theme of “pieces of our lives” will resonate in those sculptures. (Check her website,, for progress on this project.)

Jimmye Lynn Porter of Wooster makes gazing balls by covering bowling balls with mosaics and even pennies, and her garden art is unique and just plain fun! A few years after her husband died, Porter moved to the Wooster area to be closer to her daughter, Jayme Jeane. Porter started her journey with yard art about 18 months ago when she found Facebook groups with members knowledgeable in the techniques and details of glass and mosaic garden art.

“Members in these groups are skilled artists, and they share expertise and also sell their works,” said Porter. “I wanted to learn the methods, but instead of selling my stuff, I give them as gifts. For example, some group members have a ‘pay it forward’ option, where they send an item to another member and encourage them to continue the custom. I recently sent a hummingbird swing I had just learned how to make.”

On Porter’s penny-covered bowling ball, she hid one Canadian penny among the 750 U.S. pennies and challenged her grandchildren, Fisher and Brooke, to find the odd one. Now when they bring friends by Porter’s home, they invite them into the game!

With the help of her Facebook friends, Porter has moved from bowling ball creations to her new favorite, glass flowers. You can learn more about her work on her Facebook page: Jimmye Lynn Dye-Porter.

While you can certainly find garden art in most any garden center, the art you purchase from an artist like Jones and Porter also come with the inherent gift of their time and talent, their failures and frustration and a part of their heart.

As Jones says, “I love to make art that creates smiles. And when my students say ‘I can do that!’ they are absolutely right! I promise you will never look at junk the same way again.”


A Conway resident, Jan Spann has been gardening for 20-plus years and has been involved with the Faulkner County Master Gardeners for 11 years. She and her husband, Randy, have five children and eight grandchildren.