"Garden of Thorns" at The Icehouse: Remembering Phoenix Artists

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If you've been to The Icehouse in downtown Phoenix in the last few weeks, you might have noticed a garden that's slowly growing on the asphalt of the art venue's modest parking lot along Jackson Street.

The "Garden of Thorns," as it's called by owner Helene Hestenes, occupies about 20 sq feet of terraformed space carved out of the concrete near the entrance steps, with other parts of the project scattered around the lot. Here lie contributions both organic and conceptual from several notable local artist -- each piece is meant to celebrate and memorialize something or someone.

There's an orchid tree for late painter, muralist, and performance artist Rose Johnson, a forerunner in Phoenix's art scene who died in Bali two years ago from methanol poisoning. There's an Ocotillo cactus from Africa sprawling out in all directions across the left corner of the garden -- a memorial for renowned Phoenix artist Sean O'Donnell. There's also a "suicide tree" in honor of Icehouse owner Hestenes' late sister.

So far, there have been donations from such venerable Arizona-based artists as Pete Deise, Joe Willie Smith, Paolo Soleri, and Hestenes. Mayme Kratz is working on something for the Garden with leftovers from her "Tumbleweed Bower" installation at the Icehouse earlier this year.

"The Garden of Thorns is a project that I've wanted to do for over 25 years," Hestenes says. "How the idea came about was, I curated a Halloween show of artists and asked them to create a piece of something that you think is the most horrible thing. And I thought there'd be all these scary pieces. Instead, there were all these beautiful pieces. And I thought a lot about how artists can take a tragedy and form it into another dimension...after that [show], I thought...well, maybe there could be a more permanent place where artists deal with different subject matters that people can relate to from different causes and find the common denominator. The fact is, this is a painful subject we need to transform, whether it's cancer or a suicide."

The first piece of the Garden was planted about seven years ago, when the Icehouse hosted a "peace project" in honor of the Dalai Lama, who'd received the Nobel Peace Prize.

A local tree rescue company donated a tree, and during the ceremony, Hestenes says a monk drew a mandala and they buried messages of hope and peace under the tree.

Since then, the project's grown to include a white bark "wedding tree" from the Sonoran desert, a "birthday tree," a "bottle house" in the southwest corner of the lot (a small house with concrete-and-glass-bottle walls, with a white quartz crystal hanging in the center); a sitting bench made by Joe Willie Smith; a fish pond (complete with school of goldfish) constructed by Pete Deise, and a custom wind bell made especially for the Garden by Paolo Soleri.

"Right now, the Garden looks kind of ratty, but it's the kind of thing that is planted, and it's growing, and as time evolves, I'll work on a catalog," Hestenes says.

"It's an important project to me, because a lot of people are forgotten in this town, who've done a lot -- for lessons, for the arts community -- and people, when it's a tragic death, don't want to talk about it. So they're kind of forgotten, when really, to talk...it's a way to go beyond and to learn."

The Garden of Thorns project is located at The Icehouse, 429 W. Jackson Street. Call 602-257-8929 or visit The Icehouse Facebook page for more information.

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