Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Petersen Rock Garden

Here's an unusual installment for GDB, featuring a roadside attraction in Oregon, with photos taken by our pal Steve Stuart. I love that stuff like this exists! Here's Steve to tell you all about it:

Early in February I was visiting friends in Bend, Oregon – usually a yearly pilgrimage – and was reminded of a visit back in January 2013 to the Petersen Rock Garden in Redmond, Oregon.  Clearly a Roadside America attraction if there ever was one – although fairly far removed from any sort of main drag.  The rock garden was created by Rasmus Petersen, who ‘built’ his rock garden in the final 17 years of his life, ending in 1952 – in tribute to his adopted new country.  (Petersen was born in Denmark).  

Rasmus Petersen, who moved from his native Denmark to Central Oregon in the early 1900s, set up a 256-acre farm between Bend and Redmond, built the garden from rocks (sandstone, obsidian), petrified wood, thunder eggs, agate, jasper, lava glass and shells from around Redmond and on his farm.  The small, ornate houses resemble miniature Danish castles, similar to those he would have grown up with in Europe. Mixed with strange odes to America, the garden is a first generation immigrant's dreamscape.

The garden features sculptures, bridges, castles, etc., a dozen, or so in all, made from obsidian and other rocks. In addition, a flock of 30 or so peacocks and peahens roam the grounds.

It clearly reminds one of Simon Rodia, and his spectacular creation – the Watts Towers, in Los Angeles.  Although smaller in ‘scale’ and perhaps less ‘colorful’ than that of Watts Towers, Petersen’s creations are no less impressive in their execution.

By the late 1940s, Petersen’s collection of rock structures had grown so large that it took up four acres of his homestead. He decided to open up this “rock garden” to any visitor who was willing to leave a small donation at the property’s front gate. More than 100,000 visitors from all parts of the world stopped at the rock garden during its first 15 years, according to the Deschutes County Historical Society.
The inclusion of the Statue of Liberty, arguably the greatest ode to America, is carved from a single piece of red sandstone.  Lady Liberty’s depiction here, perhaps due to the ‘heaviness’ of her spires combined with her facial features, seems to bear a resemblance to an American Indian wearing a headdress – at least to me.  Unfortunately finding details on the statuary has proven elusive, and during the visit, I hadn’t the mindset to think in terms of documenting it.  This is a long way of saying that I can only guess at the height of Lady Liberty, although 10-15 feet certainly seems viable.

For his re-creation of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Obsidian stones were attached to a 12-foot-tall scale replica of the building.  As this representation isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the real deal, I’m going to assume this structure was to be it.  And just for fun, Petersen threw-in an American flag beneath the structure; then, of course showing 48 stars.

I haven’t any idea if this next rather large, multi-storied castle-? represents an actual structure or is merely a conglomeration of several buildings from Petersen’s childhood  [It may very well be Independence Hall.  Any takers-?]  The child visible in the foreground, wearing those flashy purple boots (is she attempting to ward-off evil spirits-?) gives you some idea of the grandeur of many of the structures on the property.  She can be seen petting one of the many cats staying on the property.  In another image, the peacocks and peahens can be seen roaming about.

In spite of the additional cupolas, I’m assuming this image is of the U. S. Capitol, but I could easily be wrong.  Or maybe this is a palace of Norse mythology-?  Again, the scale of these buildings is not to be trifled with.  Although the smaller ones could almost feel at-home in Storybook Land.

As for the specifics on the remaining images – your guess(es) are as good as what I could come up with.  So, enjoy.
As you may be able to ascertain from these images, the property is far from being in pristine condition.  It is owned by Petersen’s granddaughter, who has experienced financial issues, especially attempting to maintain the property and the miniature structures.  At the moment I believe the property is closed to the pubic, with a possible re-opening in the future.

MANY THANKS to Steve Stuart for sharing this oddball piece of Americana - one that I had never heard of before. I hope you enjoyed looking at the Petersen Rock Garden!


K. Martinez said...

Wow, Steve! This is amazing. I go up to Portland once in a great while to visit my sister, but have never heard of Peterson Rock Garden. This is the kind of place I'd love to visit. I like that the creations are hand made and personal and had meaning for the man who built them.

I'm not sure if that's Tower Bridge in pic#8 but I really like it. And in the same pic the structure on the pile of rocks is cool and the weathered tree beautiful. This is indeed an extra-special post today. Thank you, Steve.

Scott Lane said...

Thanks for sharing, Steve! Out of all the things that have caused me to say, "Well, that's different!" this is one of the most differentest.

TokyoMagic! said...

What a neat little roadside attraction! I hope the granddaughter is able to get some financial help for the reopening and the maintenance of this little gem. Thank you for sharing this, Steve!

Chuck said...

That building above the flag looks to me more like the Utah State Capitol than anything else, but it may be nothing more than a generic representation of a legislative building in the ubiquitous American Neoclassical style. Whatever it's supposed to be, it's pretty cool.

Thanks for sharing these, Steve - this is a real hidden gem!

Nanook said...

@ Ken-

It does kinda look like the Tower Bridge. Who knows.

It definitely would have been fun to see the Gardens in its prime, as one can observe the remains of many light sockets incorporated into many of the sculptures, that, presumably, provided up-close nighttime illumination.

@ Scott Lane-

Is that something like 'ginchiest'-??

@ TM!-

From what's been written in the papers, it doesn't sound very promising for a real re-opening - but one never knows.

@ Chuck-

Again, who knows exactly the inspiration for that building; but most indications describe it as Independence Hall. But all the handiwork on the grounds is pretty spectacular, in spite of the present condition.