One of the most irresistible sensations in any museum is the ability to touch the art. In the Geroge and Milly Rhodus Sculpture and Sensory Garden of the Ellen Noel Art Museum in Odessa, Texas, touching is not even optional. Then there are sounds and the scents from native flora.
Perhaps the most popular features of the Sensory Garden is Spirit Fountain by the late Texan artist, Jesus Moroles. The sculpture is a quietly unassuming column of undulating curves carved out of Texas pink granite. A water feature sends water softly along the curves to the base with a calming sound. The sculpture was donated by the Citizens of the Permian Basin in 2006, the 20th anniversary of the Ellen Noel Art Museum.
Moroles has two other prominent sculptures in the garden. To produce a sound, Musical Stele (2001) has slots cut at exact intervals in the black granite. Visitors can use their hands to run down the smooth-edged granite to manipulate the sound much like a vertical xylophone. Portal, a large relief sculpture mounted to a wall, is constructed of thousands of small pieces of granite in the impression of a door. The rough texture of granite is much more pronounced in the work that was commissioned by the Ellen Noel Art Museum.
The variation of textures, abstraction and materials found with the remaining sculptures allows visitors a strong tactile experience. Carmelo Cappello, Marino Mazzacurati, Victor Salmones, Emelio Greco and Rosalind Cook are among the artists represented in the Sensory Garden with other opportunities for temporary art.
Native plants have been selected based on scent, texture or the ability to attract butterflies and are continually rotated throughout the seasons. Purple fall asters, flowering kale, winecups and lamb’s ear are among those plants that induce a strong visceral sensation, while adding fresh, bright colors. Rosemary, chocolate daisies, winecups basil, mint and pansies are among the many flowers that add strong scents to the garden and visitors. Small trees add another feature of sound and the awareness of temperature through movements between sun and shade.
Opening in its current state in 1998, with advising from the Texas Commission for the Blind, the Ector County Extension Service and Permian Basin Master Gardeners. As an expansion onto the original building, those involved worked with landscape architects to construct the raised garden beds and outlay of the outdoor space. Division of Blind Services, formerly the Texas Commission for the Blind, continues to use the garden for training as well as local schools and universities. Docents are trained with goggles to emulate a range of vision impairments.
The Sensory Garden is open during regular museum hours, Tuesday through Saturday from 10am – 5pm and Sundays from 2 – 5pm with free admission. More information at http://www.noelartmuseum.org
By Jake Weigel