Whether it is the ancient philosophies of Confucius, the values instilled in us by our parents or the teachings of the Bible, things that leave an impact are carried with us as long as we live.
This also is the case with one obscure plant that most people don't realize has influenced just about every form of art as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans. The plant, known as Bear's Breeches or Acanthus, is not common in most cultivated gardens, but Jack Walters of Warren not only grows Acanthus as a landscape plant, he understands the importance it has had on history for centuries.
''The Acanthus leaf; that's my love,'' Walters said.
Jack Walters, of Warren, kneels beside one of his Acanthus plants given to him by his daughter, Bonnie Young. Realizing his love for the plant, Young wanted her father to have the living version of the woodcarving design he has perfected over the years.
Walters only became interested in the plant about 10 years ago when he saw it featured in a woodcarving magazine. He has since taken classes from some of the world's best master carvers and has carved the plant's leaves into handcrafted bookends, shelves and other furniture. This summer, he will be traveling to Wisconsin to help teach the craft to other woodcarvers.
Walters started woodcarving in the mid-1960s as a hobby. At the time, he worked in the metallurgical department at Republic Steel, from where he retired in 1988. After seeing woodcarvings at local artisan and craft shows, Walters interest was piqued.
''I went to a craft show and saw a carving and thought, 'I could do that,''' he said.
Annual contest kicks off
The Tribune Chronicle and Ohio State Extension Trumbull County Master Gardeners will once again be offering the annual flower garden contest. The contest is open to amateur gardeners in Trumbull County who have created beautiful landscapes on their own property. Entry forms are available in the Tribune Chronicle throughout the week. Certified Trumbull County Master Gardeners will judge the entries from July 22 to Aug. 8. Deadline to enter is July 16. Please see the entry form on page 4E for details.
The winners will receive a gift certificate to a local garden center and will be featured in the Tribune Chronicle's Sept. 4 issue.
But it was on a motorcycle trip to to upstate New York near Lake George that Walters took note of the huge signs decorated in gold leaf. In the next issue of his favorite woodcarving magazine, he saw an advertisement for classes and began learning how to create his own hand-carved gold leaf signs.
''I started making them in my basement,'' he said. ''First I was carving ducks and birds and marketing the signs at local craft shows.''
Following his retirement from the steel industry, Walters turned his hobby into a business, Cape Cod Signs. While at one of the local craft shows, he was asked to set up a display at the annual Shaker Woods artisan show.
''That's what really made us blossom,'' Walters said, ''and we were able to be all over.''
The hand-crafted, 23-karat gold-leaf signs are displayed not just locally, but also at homes and businesses as far as California and Hawaii, he said. During the height of the sign business, Walters was featured in three artisan magazines including Sign Business, Signs of the Times and Sign Craft.
No longer making signs for commercial businesses, Walters continues to do house number signs at his workshop at Perkinswood S.E., where he also has taught others the craft in his workshop, but his first love is the carvings he creates from the Acanthus leaf.
After discovering Acanthus, Walters took his first class from Else Bigton and Phillip Odden, Acanthus-style carvers from Wisconsin. Master carvers and other artists have used the design for centuries in various artistic mediums, including sculpture, stonework, metals, textiles and paintings.
Although the Acanthus leaf has a tropical look, it thrives in temperate climates, originating from the Mediterranean region. The leaves are shiny, dark green and lobed with long spikes that produce purple and white flowers. They grow in full to partial shade and work well with hosta and ferns.
There are many myths and legends that attempt to explain the origin of the plant's use in architecture, including tales of a Greek nymph who resisted the romantic advances of Apollo and was turned into the plant, and the story of the Acanthus plant that grew over a tribute to a prominent virgin who died and was buried under a pyramidal tomb. The plant also is believed to be the model for the well-known Corinthian column, although some historians dispute this and believe the design on the columns is modeled from palm leaves.
Walters has both varieties of the plant in his landscape; Acanthus mollis, which he says are the pattern for the design; and Acanthus spinosus, a prickly species. The plants, he said, were gifts from his daughter, Bonnie Young.