Art exhibit focuses on mowing patterns

Any grounds manager who's gone to the trouble to mow a pattern into a client's lawn can appreciate the work that goes into it. Now the rest of the public can appreciate it too.

The aesthetics of a lovely mowing pattern can enhance any turfgrass area. From sports turf to landscaped turf areas, you can dress up any of them with a little creative thought.

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As beautiful as these patterns can be, however, few people outside of the grounds-maintenance profession probably appreciate the design and technical challenge that goes into getting a pattern from paper and onto a field. That is, until now.

In fall 1996, to my surprise, Elizabeth Diller of the New York firm, Diller & Scofidio, contacted me. She described how her firm was organizing a touring art exhibit titled, "The American Home Lawn: Surfaces in Everyday Life." Her firm had seen TV highlights of baseball games and noticed the patterns on the Milwaukee (Wis.) Brewers Baseball Club's field. She asked me to send her some photos of patterns we'd designed for the field. After reviewing the photos, the firm's Gwynne Keathley asked if I would be willing to photograph patterns during the '97 season to include as part of the exhibit. I enthusiastically accepted.

Achieving our designs Each design involves different challenges and needs individual strategies. We stress attention to detailing our entire turfgrass-management program. A healthy, actively growing turfgrass is a must for each design. And safety and playability of the field always come first. Only after we've ensured that we've met those aspects do we consider the aesthetics. After all, a design pattern should not affect the play of the game - only enhance the viewing of it. I feel it is important to enhance a fan's visit however possible and that a beautiful pattern adds to the aura of our facility. I hope that when a fan sees our field in person or on TV, the pattern adds a little to his or her enjoyment of watching the game, and they remember the beauty as an added bonus.

Our office often gets phone calls from across the United States and Canada asking if we achieve the designs with paint, different types of grass or even different cutting heights. Actually, as most grounds managers already know, we achieve the look simply by using reel mowers with rollers, which bend the grass in the direction the mowers travel.

To begin each design, I think of the 100,000 square feet of our field's lush, dark-green 90-percent Kentucky bluegrass/10-percent perennial-rye mix as an oversized art canvas. Design ideas are always flowing among the staff, too, and we initially draw up the designs on the computer, though sometimes designs come in via a sketch pad or scrap of paper. Occasionally, we simply create a design by "eye" while mowing.

Sometimes an idea on paper doesn't work on the turf. A pattern needs to be pleasing to the eye, yet not too time- or labor-intensive. Plus, as I mentioned, we take extra care not to harm the turfgrass. Some designs are quite complicated and, to keep sections or lines exactly the same width, we use a tape measure and line strings for precision.

Mowing in patterns offers not only aesthetic results but agronomic ones too. This is because it is important not to mow the same direction every time. If you do, the grass blades start to lay down in that direction and can become stressed and weak. By designing a new pattern each time you mow, you not only improve the health of the turfgrass, you add a pattern that is pleasing to the eye.

Photographing for the exhibit We photographed each pattern using a 17- to 24-mm wide-angle lens from two directions. We used a 24-mm setting for a view from the upper deck, directly behind home plate on the center axis. We photographed another view from our mascot's home "chalet" in center field at a 17-mm setting.

I photographed some of the patterns. Jill Stoltz, photographic intern, took others, along with team photographer Joe Picciolo's help and guidance.

In the exhibit, each slide was cropped identically. The images were then projected onto a large wall during a 26- to 28-slide presentation. Each image dissolvde into the next one as they appeared on the wall.

Seeing the exhibit The exhibit included five sections, one of which focused on sports turf. Other parts of the exhibit featured golf courses and parks. It opens at Montreal's National Art Institute of Canada for a 3-month run, and was sponsored by the Canadian Center for Architecture. After its Canadian exhibition, it toured four to five museums in the United States for 2 to 3 years.

While some may think groundskeepers "just cut the grass," much more is involved in an overall turfgrass-management program. With million-dollar athletes on the field, we stress attention to every detail to ensure a "field of dreams." Patterns are just a small fraction of the tasks we perform. However, patterns - whether complex or basic - do take a special skill and touch to be done really well. When completed, they are another way to enhance the atmosphere at the ballpark. After all, when the fans walk to their seats, one of their first views is of the field. I feel it is important to make that moment memorable by letting the baseball diamond shine with a special design. We try to give a different meaning to the term "lawn art."

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