Diana Hall has lived in the Delaware County village of Franklin for thirty two years. That makes her a newcomer, by some standards. But she has built a community, and a life, that helps to bind this small town together; one she hopes will welcome the influx of newcomers who have arrived in the past couple of years.
Hall is the owner of a small shop called Botanical Treasures. She is the founder of the Franklin Garden Club. She is an artist. Tucked into an old garage behind her historic home is a magical, tranquil space full of wonders. Hall has a collection of unusual, interesting and beautiful objects created by herself and other artists, all designed to either be displayed in a garden, or to bring the beauty of nature indoors.
Trained in gold and silversmithing at SUNY New Paltz, the Westchester County native put art aside for years and worked in an office full time to, as she describes it, “survive.” When she and her husband discovered their current home in the village of Franklin it was, she says, “a ruin.” There had been a fire. But it had clearly once been lovely. When she found an old house with the symmetry and detail she loved, with a price tag of forty thousand dollars, a little charred lumber wasn’t going to put her off.
“We were very poor. And my husband is a contractor.” And she is a self-confessed old house fanatic.
The in-town property had some lilacs, mature maples, and a euonymous. It had been vacant. There were no gardens. Hall, working full time with people recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol, discovered gardening was good therapy after a day at work.
“I wanted to be out in nature. I missed it. I love people, but my dream would be to work outside.”
There was no plan, no map for the new gardens.
“I bought plants and started sticking them places. For me, it’s all about movement in my artwork. I wanted movement in the garden borders. It just got bigger as I added more plants and kept obsessively reading about gardens.”
Today, Hall’s home boasts two stunning bordered gardens, each a mixture of formality and cottage English garden flamboyance. Overgrown asparagus create lovely, spindly height, while poppies, iris, hellebores, roses and other garden staples mingle with wildflowers and groundcover.
One garden is all straight lines and right angles, while the other swoops and turns, revealing surprises and color that cannot all be seen from one vantage point.
“My mother was an artist, and everything was about composition, even the way our dinner table was set. I’ve got that, too,” Hall admits. “I like things not too cluttered. Aesthetics are important But I find myself moving more toward a meadow-y feel, one that’s better for the earth.”
She smiles. “Nature is not about minimalism. If you plant something, it’s going to grow and spread.”
More than ten years ago, Hall and a few friends decided that they’d like to find other neighbors who were as interested in gardening as they were. The Franklin Garden Club became a community building exercise, growing and contracting as the town’s population changed, but taking on more responsibilities for making the village a place to be proud of. The club persuaded stone artist Robert Johnson, who lives in the village, and local mason Jack Simon to help create the outlines of a village park from the ruins of an old boarding house on Main Street. The garden club did the planting and maintains the park. The members also plant flowers in barrels along Main Street each year and hold an annual plant sale. This year there is a Blueberry Festival planned for August, an event Hall hopes will help connect the village with the wider town.
After twenty seven years working in an office job, Hall’s life took a sharp right turn.
“I had a heart attack,” she explains. “After that, I knew, clearly, that I wanted to pursue art. I wanted to get out of sitting in a a chair all day. So I quit my job.”
She had no Plan B at that point. She admits it was scary at the time. But she never looked back. “It was the best decision I ever made. You know how it is, you get on the treadmill….I have probably would have tried to stay there until retirement.”
Instead, she started studying sculpture at The Smithy in nearby Cooperstown.
“I loved working with clay there. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, not competitive. And I am still completely learning.”
She started throwing pots, then adding details. Then she began making flowers. She’s only been doing the human form, she says, for about a year. But in that year she has created beautiful, haunting elementals, magical creatures who incorporate nature into their form. Each has a personality, each feels incredibly alive.
“You can fall in love with a flower as you make it,” Hall said, “but as I make the people it feels like they have a soul. And clay feels a lot like working in the garden. It’s life. It’s nature.”
She’s getting commissions for her work and people are responding positively.
“It’s so important to feel like your work is connecting to other people. It must be very hard to do experimental art, only to hear that no one ‘gets’ it. The battle of being human. I always say confidence is an illusion. It can be shattered in a moment.”
That gentle touch, that kindness, permeates the Franklin Garden Club. They meet monthly, sharing a potluck dinner and garden ideas.
“The thing is community,” Hall says. “Enjoying a shared love of something. We want to make people feel welcome.”
Her goal for the club’s future is to create even more connections in the community.
“It’s such a beautiful town, an architectural era captured in time that hasn’t changed. That’s what makes it a gem. I’m hoping the businesses thrive on Main Street, building energy for even more preservation.”
Her goal for her art is equally sunny.
“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m so happy. I have no idea what I might do next. My brain could go anywhere.”
11 Maple St Franklin NY 13775
https://www.instagram.com/botanicaltreasures01/ Instagram is her preferred site.
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