The Topiary Park: A Unique Interpretation of a Painting

Living ArtPainting location in park

At the heart of the Topiary Park is a living sculptural interpretation of Georges Seurat’s Post-Impressionist Painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte. It is the only known topiary representation of a painting. The topiary garden comprises 54 human figures, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey and a cat—each made of yew and the tallest standing at 12 feet. Guests can see “the painting” from the artist’s point of view by standing on the eastern-most hill to the left of the bronze plaque.

A Visionary Idea

The concept of the garden came from James T. Mason, a local sculptor who worked for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. He shared his vision with his then wife Elaine and they presented the idea to Director James Barney who took it to the Town-Franklin Neighborhood Association. The concept was met with enthusiasm and financial support. Motorists Insurance Group made a generous donation, the neighborhood association raised funds and the city of Columbus matched both donors. With this support the garden was started in 1988. James designed and built the bronze frames and planted the shrubs. Elaine was the initial topiarist who also trained the city gardeners in the art of trimming the topiaries. In 1989 a pond was installed to represent Paris’s River Seine, and hills were added to the landscape. In 1991 the Friends of the Topiary Park was founded and in 1992 the park was dedicated. In 1998 the park received its next large addition: the gatehouse. Built in the chateau style, the gatehouse compliments the last remaining building from the Ohio Deaf School campus. The gatehouse is home to the Visitor’s Center, which includes restrooms as well as a gift shop.

The Historic Deaf School Site

The seven acres that the Topiary Park sits on were once the site of the Ohio School for the Deaf. First established in 1829, the school grew to include several buildings before relocating to Columbus’s north side in 1953. Prior to the school’s move, the area surrounding it had grown into a downtown residential neighborhood. When the school moved the neighborhood declined and did not see a renaissance until the mid 1970s. With the help of several local organizations the area was designated a historic district in 1982.

The Old Deaf School Park

In 1981, just prior to the historic district designation, a fire destroyed all but one of the deaf school buildings, which by the 1980s were vacant and in disrepair. The site was left barren and scarred. The rubble was scattered over the grounds, loosely covered with topsoil, and then turned over to the city of Columbus. While several plans were discussed, thanks to the perseverance of the Town-Franklin Neighborhood Association the remaining deaf school building was preserved and the site was developed as a public park—Old Deaf School Park, which would soon grow into the botanical treasure it is today.

The Topiary Park

Today visitors come to see the mature shrubs and enjoy the garden’s living work of art. While the topiary is the more famous aspect of the park, the site is beautifully landscaped with walks that take you by carefully tended flowerbeds and more than 220 trees—a tree-walk guide [link] can be downloaded and used to identify 25 diverse types of trees. Though the historical designation of Old Deaf School Park remains, the popularity of the topiaries has led the park to commonly be called the Topiary Park.

back to top Back to top