To say “it’s been a long time coming” is an understatement for Rob and Victory Schouten, owners of the Rob Schouten Gallery in Langley.
Since 2017, when the couple moved their gallery from Greenbank Farm to the historic 1923 bank building on First and Anthes, they knew the parcel next door would one day become Whidbey Island’s first gallery-owned sculpture garden.
It took a hefty dose of vision and imagination to cut through the tangled tumble of overgrowth now cradling larger-than-life works by the island’s most renowned sculptors and creators. The hard work began in the Schoutens’ hearts two years ago and, literally, by their own hands one year later.
“Part of our proposal to lease the space was to renovate the garden,” Rob said. “There was a rough layout and some existing rose bushes … but everything outside the almost-hidden circular path was overgrown brambles and at least six inches of solid, matted roots that had to be dug out.”
The Schoutens removed diseased trees and then, with the faithful help of Harry Labin and occasionally his son, Asher, hauled out an estimated 25 cubic yards of yard waste between July and December of last year. The fruit of their labors is now blossoming in full view in downtown Langley.
The official artists’ reception to introduce Rob Schouten Gallery’s new sculpture garden takes place during the second Saturday art walk on Oct. 5, but the garden is already welcoming visitors with open arms.
The finishing touches continue, with plaques, garden lights and ever-evolving perennials, flowers and evergreen shrubs being added every day. But most of the 17 striking pieces of sculptural art have already staked their claim in what the Schoutens call their “little gem of a garden.”
The newly cultivated pathways now wind past inviting benches, natural “sitting rocks” and resilient roses from days gone by, creating a tranquil “time out” spot in the heart of Langley. The entire community is welcome to bring coffee or lunch and stroll the garden at no cost any time the gallery is open.
As a notable “magic realist” painter himself, Rob Schoutren cultivates a curated collection of professional gallery artists whose works now spill from inside to out, building a bridge between shelter and vulnerability. From bronze to steel, stone and marble, the materials on both sides of the walls speak to the resilience of the human and creative spirit that’s right at home in South Whidbey.
At least 11 local artists, many whose work is routinely represented at Rob Schouten Gallery, have sculptures in the garden, including a centerpiece by Dan Freeman and three works each by Georgia Gerber and Sharon Spencer.
Pieces by Gerber, well known for iconic pieces such as Rachel the Piggy Bank at Pike Place Market in Seattle, include “Bowing Raven” and “Moon Dance.” Spencer contributes graceful statues such as “The Giver,” which was moved from Greenbank to Langley for its new home in the garden.
Sculptures from Sue Taves include the mesmerizing wave sets made from granite on steel, and artist Dale Reiger from Oak Harbor adds a juxtaposition of colorful handblown glass pieces.
Other single works of art dotting the serene landscape come from Lloyd Whannell, whose “Silent Words” sculpture haunts from a corner in the form of a tall slender lady, and Richard Nash, creator of the towering steel “Tango” monument whose perspective reinvents itself as the viewer changes positions.
The creativity of Robert Adamson, Lane Thompkins and Penelope Crittenden bring everything from a white marble “Spring Crochet” to glass bouquets, playful rabbits and owls frozen in action. Welder Jim Bernacki brought to life Rob’s design for the colorful garden backdrop piece, and a water wall installation by Woody Morris will be added this week.
Tucked into a corner bordering the Whale Center at the edge of the garden is a piece directly from nature itself: a massive whale skull ringed by a carpet of delicate blossoms planted by the Schoutens.
Many of the artists will be there in person at the sculpture garden’s opening reception from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5. But the Schoutens encourage visitors to stop by the garden during DjangoFest this week as well –— and to bring a guitar, a cup of warm cocoa and a friend new or old.