Today, a man brings animals to life. The University
of Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
My wife goes into a flower
shop to look at plants. I wander out back. I see a
stag on a table under a tree. He's made from
welding rods. His head dips gracefully. A few deft
strokes in bent steel tell his grace and timidity.
A man finishes welding a brace of concrete
reinforcing steel as I walk up. He pushes back his
mask and greets me. He's Juan Macario; young --
recently from Guatemala. I admire his work, so he
tells me about it.
This is a form of topiary. When he finishes the
frame, someone else will fill in the surface with
wet moss -- then tie it down with plastic fish
line. Finally you plant creeping ivy in the moss.
One day this green feral beast will stand just
beyond the trees at the edge of your yard, sniffing
the open ground.
Topiary is the ancient art of trimming hedges into
fantastic shapes. Pliny the Elder told about
topiary in the reign of Caesar Augustus. Here in
Houston, ivy on shaped frames is a form of topiary
that's been booming since 1985.
At first the figures were stiff, and the range
limited. Then it expanded -- horses and giraffes,
monkeys and elephants. Macario shows me an eagle he
made. The wings are spread in takeoff position. The
claws grasp a fish.
"How do you do it?" I wonder. "Are you a trained
sculptor?" "No," he says, stroking the ivied flank
of a great snorting green bull, "But I like
animals." It turns out he's only done this for a
few months. He pulls out a looseleaf notebook.
He photocopies animal pictures and studies their
motion. Then, with an eerie sense of shape, he
bends welding rods into sentient forms. These
creatures cost anywhere from 95 to 4000 dollars.
But I don't read money in Juan's face. I read
enchantment -- with the animals, with the subtlety
of their movement.
Topiary became very popular in the 15th century.
Renaissance artists were enchanted with shape and
form -- not of animals, but of geometry. Wealthy
garden owners cut shrubbery into mazes and puzzles.
They wove their hedges into geometrical tapestries.
Now, in 20th-century Houston, the fascination is
with animals. I go into the store and talk with the
manager. Yes, he agrees, Macario has a talent. And
the owner of the shop is an engineer. He likes to
build things and to see things being built.
So it is self-expression that drives this small
exercise in free enterprise. I might've doubted
that as I drove in. But I glance at the angled leg
of a deer as I leave. And I know Macario is telling
me how to feel what they feel -- all the lovely
beasts who complete the world we live in.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds