The newcomer’s gaze serenely scans the landscape, his spear and shield at the ready. He’s a warrior, but it is unlikely he’ll need the weaponry. Nobody’s going to mess with this garden as long as the gentle giant is around.
The new presence in Joan and Andy Kuhn’s Naperville garden is the ultimate lawn ornament, with a dash of oversized scarecrow. Keeper of the peace on a homestead shared by members of one of Naperville’s earliest families, it’s a sculpture named Hemlock that towers 16 feet high to the tips of the native grass atop its head. It is rendered in recyclables, scrap materials welded together into something wondrous and new.
“It took a while before it really started taking shape,” said Paul Kuhn, 34, the artist who spent more than a year creating the figure, with abundant support from members of his family.
Tom Kuhn, the artist’s dad, was most closely involved.
“Paul had a different vision than I did,” said Tom, who had seen a photograph of a garden giant and suggested the idea.
The timing was right. A painter by profession, Paul had been looking for a way to branch out into welded metals as a medium. The availability of materials provided the spark that made him a sculptor.
“I had been working as a subcontractor for a railroad, and I had access to a lot of metal,” he said.
So it is that the giant’s skeleton was formed from rail car scrap. Its skin is made of cedar fencing, and the armor that protects its torso was once 55-gallon barrels — a contribution from Uncle Pete Kuhn, who owns Kuhn’s Lawn & Snow in Wheatland Township.
“He’s a wooden guy who happens to have armor on,” said Paul, whose five years attending the School of the Art Institute in Chicago familiarized him with the anatomical proportions of the human form, even a supersized one. “He’s a warrior, so wherever the armor is, is steel.”
The railways also came through when it was time to build the giant’s frame. Concealed by the cedar boards that form the wooden guy’s arms and legs are gigantic railroad springs that function as joints at its elbows and knees.
“A really strong wind will kind of get it moving,” Paul said, gently swaying the limb to demonstrate its range of movement.
As for the shield of gleaming gold, that used to be a Zildjian cymbal. It ceased its musical purpose once it developed a crack; the musician who had struck it so many times was a friend of the artist.
“I told him I was having trouble with the shield, and he said, ‘I’ve got just the thing for you,’” Paul said.
Hemlock is not entirely hard surfaces. Sprouting from the crown of the figure’s head is a clump of ornamental grass. Its beard is a velvety sedum, and spilling over the tops of its rust-weathered boots are more cascading plants.
Paul’s aunt, Liz Kuhn Allard, brought her green thumb to the project. It is she who tends the sprawling gardens tucked behind the elder Kuhns’ two-story Colonial, perched on a cul de sac near Ogden Avenue that’s all but invisible to those who aren’t looking for it.
“We started a little garden of mostly sedums,” said Liz, whose lush horticultural handiwork surrounds the giant.
Pete provided the Bobcat that relocated boulders from other spots in the big backyard. The largest of them, situated in the rear of the garden vignette, looked like it had always been there — until Joan pointed out that it’s actually made of concrete, with sedum nestled into the hollow on its top surface.
The sculpture’s placement was chosen so that Joan would have a clear view of the giant from her back porch, Paul said.
“He’s definitely like a protector-guardian,” he said.
He’s not done yet. While the greenery that adorns him ensures that the giant will look a little different each week through the warm months, there are more embellishments coming. Standing near the sculpture, grapevine is wound around a tomato cage, drying into the shape it’ll need to form a quiver for the giant’s arrows.
“He’s going to be like a giant action figure,” Paul said.
He’ll also have company. Another “living sculpture” figure, at least as grand of proportion as the giant, will be installed a few feet away in the rear of Paul’s grandparents’ garden, as his next foray into three-dimensional art. In the meantime, he relishes introducing visitors to the gentle giant.
“I’m just looking forward to people’s reactions to it,” he said.
More information about the giant can be found at www.facebook.com/twelvelimbsartstudio.