Public Garden: “Small garden, big impact”

By August 27, 2018 Public Garden

The ten-acre New Orleans Botanical Garden, located within the 1,300-acre New Orleans City Park, was originally built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and called simply the “Rose Garden.” One of the main contributors to the creation of the Rose Garden was sculptor Enrique Alférez. In 2012 when we began the design process for our new garden entrance, we decided to focus on the artist’s work and legacy.

With the support of the Helis Foundation and the design expertise of landscape architect Robin Tanner, we were able to create the Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden. It is a collection of fifteen sculptures in bronze, cast stone, and metal, all created by Alférez. Tanner’s design for the garden was influenced by the restraint of Zen aesthetic, while at the same time allowing the female form of the bronze sculptures to influence the curves that are repeated throughout the garden. The plant palette is very limited and is used to support, not distract from, the sculpture. Tanner also designed two arbors in the Garden. These were designed to house the graphics needed to tell the story of Enrique’s artistic and professional life, and they also provided the proper scale to display some of the smaller pieces in the collection.

Even before the creation of our new entrance, the New Orleans Botanical Garden held the largest collection of Enrique Alférez sculpture in the world. It was natural that we would expand upon our connection with the artist and create plans for a separate Alférez Sculpture Garden as part of our new entry expansion. Enrique was born in Zacatacas, Mexico, in 1901. According to his own account, “I was twelve when I ran away from home because I messed up at school, and I knew my father was going to get after me. There was a revolution and a lot of fighting in those days and somehow, I ended up behind the government lines and ran into the Pancho Villa rebel army. They told me I had two choices. I could get shot, or I could join them. So I stayed with them ten years, until I was twenty-two.” He eventually escaped across the border to El Paso, Texas.

Enrique first came to New Orleans in 1929 and was the lead sculptor for the WPA during the 1930s, creating numerous pieces of public art in City Park and throughout the region. It was during this time that he created fountains, sculptures, and limestone relief in the Garden. I was fortunate to work with Enrique here at the Botanical Garden from 1982 until his death in 1999. He completed his last piece here at the Garden in 1998 at the age of 97.

The mission behind the creation of this Sculpture Garden was two-fold: to display Enrique’s incredible works in an aesthetically pleasing landscape, and to tell the story of his connection to the WPA, the Botanical Garden, and his colorful personal life.

The Helis Foundation underwrites free Wednesday admission to the Botanical Garden for Louisiana residents. They also support our “Evenings with Enrique” program every April and October, where fire baskets are suspended from a large live oak tree and visitors enjoy Latin music, mojitos, and Latin food.

The Helis Foundation Enrique Alférez Sculpture Garden has been a tremendous addition to the Botanical Garden. It provides a unique and authentic experience for the visitor, and showcases the creations by one of New Orleans’ most famous artists–Enrique Alférez.

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