The Secret Garden


This autumn, I completed the largest mixed-media piece I had ever worked on. The altered book art group that I belonged to had committed to an exhibition at the local library. We were to choose a favorite book and interpret it within a frame. I knew immediately that my book choice would be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I also knew that I wanted a gate that could be opened to a garden inside of a shadow box.

First, I found the frame. It was a really hot day in July and I had decided to drive in my little Honda hatchback (no air conditioning) over to South Haven, about a 40 minute drive. There are lots of dusty old antique shops over that way and I thought they might have what I wanted at a bargain price. After stopping at 2 other places, I finally found what I wanted at the Junque Shop. It was a window frame rather than a picture frame and really big, much bigger than I needed, but it had this old neglected look and a beautiful arched shape which I felt would echo the arched shape of the gate in the story.


Finding the perfect shadow box was much more difficult. I wanted a shallow box with a side hinged cover. I found several but none seemed the right size for the frame. Time was beginning to get a little tight. Even after finding the right box, I couldn’t figure out how to reproduce the arch of the gate and make it work. I tried experimenting with papier-mache but it just didn’t look right.

I finally decided to use a large shrine that I bought earlier that spring, not for any reason except for the low price. It was not a shadow box in any sense of the word, plus it was a triptych – two smaller arches that opened up to a larger arch. It had no depth and I knew I wasn’t going to get it to lay flat, but I pretty much had run out of time and couldn’t quibble.


I created a double gate, used thin strips of poster board covered with bits and pieces of pages torn from the book. I glued a lock in the door and spent a huge amount of time trying to get a small key to fit into it, but when that proved an impossible task, I finally gave up. In case the audience wasn’t sure what book it was, I added a sign to announce it. Then I painted the outside with acrylic paint and a brown sharpie pen.

The inside was a lot more fun. I had seen a tree on pinterest, made out of a brown paper bag and decided to duplicate it for the half-dead tree in the garden. In retrospect, I wish I had added leaves to the tree, but didn’t think of it at that time.  I used several copies of old pictures of Gertrude Jekyll’s garden taken in the early 1900’s and cut up different elements to create a layered dimensional collage of an English walled garden in full bloom – just how I imagined the garden in the book. There was even a little robin in the picture. I glued a sky into the background and added some more 3-D interest by adding sphagnum moss spilling over the wall.




with the door open

I was still working on the interior when I decided that I wasn’t going to finish in time for the show. I was only able to work on it weekends and that was only sporadically.

So, I emailed our contact person and let her know that I wasn’t able to complete the project. She asked me how much time I needed. I thought about a week. She told she would look into it to try to get me that week. She did get permission to let me turn it in late, but by then, the 7 days had dwindled down to 3. I managed to get the main piece done and had also decorated the outside frame with iconic images from the book.


Mary’s hat and jump rope


The robin and the ivy that hid the gate.


It was Friday morning and I was trying to figure out how to “float” the shrine in the middle of the window frame, when I slipped down a couple a steps and fell into the frame.  The big toe on my left foot was seriously hurting and the whole outside of my right foot was swelling and turning a lovely shade of purple. However, the only thing I could think of at that moment was the frame, caught before any damage was done.

I was in considerable pain and had this feeling that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the library that day as I had promised, so I immediately called our contact and managed to postpone the picture hanging until Monday, then called my friend at work. I had been scheduled to come in the next day, but at this point I could barely walk. She told me to not worry about work and get to the doctor right away. So I did.

Somehow I managed to drive my standard Honda hatchback (the foot clutch was practically impossible) to the immediate care center where they x-rayed both feet. My big toe was fractured right up into the “knuckle” joint, the other foot badly bruised. The nurse showed me how to tape the toe up, told me to stay off my feet as much as possible and sent me home.


Broken toe – you can’t really tell, but it is pretty swollen. The right foot was worse.

Since both feet were swollen and very sore, I pretty much stayed in bed for the next 2 days. Finally, on the 3rd day I managed to hobble downstairs to finish up the frame. I promised to get the art work in so it could be hung and I couldn’t put it off again.

I was still taking sick time from work but I thought that if I could drive over to the library and deliver the piece, I could probably handle going back the following day. Driving was very difficult, but I did get there, got the picture hung along the entrance hallway, drove back home and fell back into bed. Made it!


on display

I didn’t really get a chance to view the piece until a month later when we had a reception for the displayed artwork; This, however, will need to wait until next time as this post has gone on much too long.


About Jill-O

a girl who likes lakes, trees and critters; making an attempt at living the artistic life.
This entry was posted in art, biographical, crafts, paper art and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Secret Garden

  1. joannethiemehuffman says:

    I had forgotten your broken toe was an art injury. I really loved your piece. I think it was the favorite of a lot of people.

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