The Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, OH was a completely accidental find for us on a recent outing, and I’m so glad we came across this labor of love. The project dates back to 1932, when H. G. “Ben” Hartman was laid off from his job and started filling his garden with structures and figurines made of broken stone, pottery and mirror bits.
Roadside America classifies this type of folk art as Dementia Concretia and defines it as “the helter-skelter compulsion to cover whatever outdoor space you have with home-made art.” Wow, I think that describes this garden perfectly.
You can see recurring themes of patriotism, education and religion, and many structures and scenes important in American history, including the White House, Mount Vernon, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Oregon Trail, Custer’s last stand, and the home of Betsy Ross. It’s estimated that Hartman used approximately a quarter of a million stones in the 12 years that he spent on construction.
Unsurprisingly, my favorite aspect of the whole garden is the funky lettering scattered throughout.
Here’s my interpretation of the garden — I see it as a kind of DIY utopia. Maybe Hartman was depressed and frustrated by the reality of life during the Great Depression. Maybe he felt that he’d lost agency over his life, and constructing these positive, wholesome scenes gave him a measure of control, as if he were entering a functional world of his own making. What do you think?
The Hartman Rock Garden is located at 1905 Russell Ave. on the corner of McCain Ave., in a quiet residential neighborhood of Springfield, OH. It’s free and open to the public all day, every day.