Monday, April 12, 2010


Artist Richard Richardson and his collaborators realize an ambitious vision for outdoor spaces.


Richardson and his collaborators used local stone in walls and pathways to create and connect a series of outdoor rooms.

If, like many homeowners, you spend nearly as much or more time thinking about your back yard-your exterior room or rooms-as you do your house or apartment, you owe it to yourself to visit the Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen.

Located on Route 112 just past the entrance to the DAR State Forest, the sanctuary is the artistic masterpiece of Richard Richardson, the longtime proprietor of the Good Time Stove Company. You'll know you've found the sanctuary when you spy the giant tin man looming over Richardson's stove shop and adjacent to his home, a beautifully restored farmhouse. The Three Sisters Sanctuary is, literally, Richardson's back yard.

Inspired by his daughters, by the beauty of the land surrounding his home and business, which abuts the state forest, and by the many artists with whom he's collaborated over more than three decades in the Valley, Richardson set out to create a spiritually healing place where visitors might wander in a natural setting lightly touched by artistic hands. Richardson has turned the fields behind his home into a series of outdoor rooms delineated with intricate rock walls, many paved in local Goshen stone and showcasing a variety of art from a variety of local artists.

A wildly ambitious project now realized, the obvious boldness of Richardson's vision is nevertheless carefully subdued.

Clockwise from top left: In Richardson’s bike garden, disused bicycles sprout up like flowers; a dragon head tops the chimney of the sanctuary’s central fireplace; a natural stone amphitheatre.

A few years ago, I had a chance to tour the sanctuary while it was still under construction. Even in its half-finished form, the garden rooms were compelling, drawing my eye from one discovery to the next while allowing me at the same time to feel the whole of the place. As Richardson spoke about spiritual matters and his desire to create a place for healing and quiet contemplation, I quickly realized that his sense of the metaphysical was one that included plenty of whimsy, plenty of fun. There is nothing heavy or foreboding about Richardson's sanctuary, despite his use of enormous slabs of stone or the centerpiece of his garden: an enormous wire and glass dragon, which sat atop the chimney of a huge outdoor fireplace, smoke pouring from its mouth. Everywhere I turned, I saw not only I Richardson's handiwork, but the work of many local artists who contributed to the sanctuary as it came into being.

Now complete and open to the public-by appointment or, as Richardson puts it, "by chance"-the sanctuary is even more than I imagined it would be: more beautiful, more varied, more entertaining, more evocative. A wildly ambitious project now realized, the obvious boldness of Richardson's vision is nevertheless. Carefully subdued, working in concert with rather than overpowering the surrounding natural setting.

For anyone who loves gardens and works to make their own back yard a visually stimulating haven, the Three Sisters Sanctuary may unleash a torrent of new ideas about the balance of natural and artistic elements in outdoor spaces. By returning to the sanctuary throughout the year, one can measure the impact of the natural forces with which Richardson collaborates to amazing effect: seasons, weather and light.

The Three Sisters Sanctuary is an inspiring achievement in landscape design and environmental artistry, demonstrating I what one man, with the help of family and friends, can create in his own back yard.

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