Music, sculpture, poetry, flowers and trees: It's Mother's Day at Big Rock Garden Park


Mother's Day is a fine excuse to venture to the top of Alabama Hill and visit the one of the best-kept secrets in Bellingham: Big Rock Garden Park.

Even if you aren't a mother.

A free event celebrating Mother's Day with music, poetry, a sculpture exhibit and plein- air artists is from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 11, at the park, 2900 Sylvan St., three blocks north of Alabama Street.

Guests are reminded that parking is limited to those with special needs, and parking is available at Bloedel Donovan Park. A shuttle to Big Rock Garden is free; the first shuttle leaves Bloedel Donovan at 12:45 p.m.

This time of year the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom with brilliant pinks, magentas and purples in the two-and-a-half-acre garden.

Rae Edwards, volunteer coordinator for Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, says she has had programs of the annual Mother's Day at Big Rock Garden dating back to 1999. She says it started out as a garden party, a simple event to enjoy the garden, and then, as years progressed, to celebrate new sculptures in the garden and, eventually, to view the opening of new temporary sculpture shows.

Today, she says, the Mother's Day event highlights the permanent collection and the occasional temporary sculpture exhibit.

Most recently, in the last couple of years, the Mother's Day festivities have added plein-air artists (painters who create their art outside) and readings by local poets.

The event is sponsored by the Friends for Big Rock Garden Park, the Bellingham Arts Commission and the Parks and Recreation Department.

Edwards describes the park as a "respite for the soul, nestled in a grove of evergreens above Lake Whatcom."

The park currently displays 38 permanent sculptures by distinguished international and local artists, including works by internationally known Mexican artist Sebastian, and pieces by Canadian artist David Marshall.

Sculptures have been purchased by private individuals, donated by sculptors, and given as gifts in remembrance of loved ones. Remembrances are indicated at the Friends Grove in the park.

Originally called the Garden of Art by founders George, MaryAnn and David Drake in 1981, the city of Bellingham purchased the garden in 1993.

Volunteers have played a key role in the park during its 21-year history. The Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee and the Big Rock Garden Committee were the initial volunteer groups.

Today, the Friends of Big Rock Garden Park continue to support the park with several annual work parties, cleaning the sculptures and improving the garden. The group is the main sponsor of the annual Mother's Day event.

Each year, says Edwards, Western Washington University students from the peer health education class spend six hours at the park helping the Friends of Big Rock Garden Park prepare the park for Mothers Day. They are a positive group and a huge help, she says.

This year, the event includes the opening of "Inspired by Big Rock Garden Park," a sculpture exhibit featuring works by Aaron Loveitt, Denise Snyder and Gary Armstrong.

There also will be music by the Devilly Brothers, who play foot-stomping Irish tunes and Americana folk songs. Light refreshments will be served.

Nancy Canyon, Robert Lashley, Harvey Schwartz, Colleen Schwartz, Jeni Cottrell, Anita K. Boyle, Jim Bertolino and Jim Milstead, all poets from the Whatcom Poetry Series, will read selections of their works.

Plein-air artists will demonstrate their techniques and sell their finished pieces - both works on the easels and other works by the artists - as a benefit for the park. The artists are Julie McPheters, Carole McNeese, Candace Beuthorn, Sherri Guiton, Ann Chaikin, Laurel Baldwin, Louise Perram and Trish Harding.

The gazebo near the entrance to the park will be the make-shift gallery space, says organizer Trish Harding.

Edwards says she received a comment from Tim Fry, a weekly volunteer and a member of the Friends of Big Rock Garden Park:

"It was a sunny, warm Mother's Day a few years ago. I was at Big Rock Garden Park listening to the assembled poets read their poems. The theme was 'mothers,' and as they read, I could see from my vantage point the smiles, laughter, and yes, sometimes tears, of the audience.

"It was such an inspiring tribute to all of our mothers.

"Framing the poets at the podium was a huge rhododendron bejeweled with huge deep-red blossoms.

"And if one turned around, you could see three of the many sculptures that inhabit the park. And just down the trail was a plein-air artist.

"The families watching her paint seemed fascinated by how quickly she had to work in order to capture the sunlight before it changed.

"She later told me that she was thrilled to have sold her first painting that day! In the background, the angelic music from a harpist filtered through the trees.

"Could one ask for a more satisfying way to spend an afternoon?

"I think not, and the images will stay with me forever."


What: Mother's Day at Big Rock Garden Park, 2900 Sylvan St.

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 11

Details: 360-778-7105. Free admission.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or

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