What if Antoni Gaudí had grown up in West Seattle in the 1950s, instead of 19th century Cataluña? What if he worked as a mechanic for Boeing, instead of building gothic churches?
You might get something like this:
Milton Walker was a Boeing mechanic who used stones, geodes, petrified wood, and colored shards of glass to create a miniature sculpture garden in his backyard. Milton and his wife Florence worked on this for twenty years, creating (among other things) an 18-foot bell tower, ornate fountains, a scaled-down rendition of the Alps, a gorgeously paved fireplace area with seating, and a number of butterfly-themed mosaics.
It’s actually difficult to do the Walker Rock Garden justice using photographs. You really have to see it for yourself close up. Examine the river rock color gradients, the well-placed shards of glass. Everything in its right place. And so much labor and focus, invested in the design and construction of something that (sadly) appears to lack any significant commercial value. In that sense, Walker’s work is a throwback to a bygone era, a time when art existed for its own sake, born of passion or a passionate maecenas and brought into being with singular focus, as if nothing else mattered.
In a sense, the Walker Rock Garden is the antithesis of modern art and design. It resists the urge to make art saleable, to optimize the means of production, to produce new discardable work ever more rapidly, to strip design down to the values of mass production, to embrace planned or neglectful obsolescence, or simply to saturate the market.
In fact, none of what Walker did in his garden was efficient, necessary, marketable, or even useful. And that is why it is beautiful. It is a labor of love, and of genius, and it is unique. It could never have been built any other way.
The future of the Walker Rock Garden is uncertain. It is currently managed by Walker’s children, and is still, remarkably, free for anyone to visit. Just close the latch when you leave.
When we visited in the summer of 2010, there was no longer any running water and the garden was overgrown with weeds. Down the slope from the main garden area we caught hints of some more beautiful work, but it was fenced off from the public and overrun by ivy. I later read that a "Friends Of the Walker Rock Garden" preservation group had once existed, but it was disbanded by request of the owners.
Part of me wanted to call in an airstrike of EarthCorps volunteers to help clean the place up. Part of me wanted to pay admission. But is that what Walker would have wanted? Perhaps converting his labor of love into a commercial museum would be the antithesis of his message. Perhaps it would defeat the purpose of the work.
So we left a donation and closed the latch behind us. It was a beautiful Seattle summer day. No one else was around.
The complete Flickr set.