“You can put almost any type of art in a garden, and it just kind of fits,” Lusk says joyfully.
The large, intricate dancing metal structures are perfect for breezy Panhandle days. Their movements are calming and meditative. “These are different,” he says. “We have metal art, but nothing with motion. The art itself is first-class and super well-built.”
Whitaker is an American artist who, for the past three decades, has primarily created wind sculptures. As a master in the kinetic sculpture discipline, his work is represented at fine art galleries and in private collections throughout the United States and abroad. Naturally, he’s garnered many fans during his career. Linda Kersh is one of them. It just so happens she is also a big fan of the Amarillo Botanical Gardens.
“I just hope that it gives people a sense of, I guess, tranquility and peace,” she says. “You know, take them away from problems or whatever might be going on in their lives. I think a lot of people go to the gardens just to step out of time.”
You’ll have to take a step back in time, though, to understand why Kersh—who lives in Tyler, Texas—made this beautiful gift to the Amarillo Botanical Gardens over the summer.
Her grandparents, John and Earline Armstrong, lived in Amarillo for more than 50 years. John graduated from Amarillo High School in 1916 and was employed by Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber Company until 1969. He served on the Amarillo City Commission for two
years and was elected mayor in 1957. Kersh says John was involved with improving a number of municipal services that Amarillo residents benefit from today. He served on committee after committee and board after board. He was a steward of Polk Street Methodist Church.
“John Armstrong believed in Amarillo, wanted to see it grow and prosper, and was willing to devote himself to the task,” Kersh says. “He didn’t need or want the plaudits of his fellow men. He believed he was simply doing his duty.”
Kersh’s grandmother, Earline, was active in the Amarillo Garden Club, one of more than a dozen garden clubs and societies that advocated fiercely for the formation of the Amarillo Garden Center in the 1960s. These clubs wanted to prove gardening was possible on the High Plains despite difficulties like drought, hot summers, cold winters and gusty winds.
“Each neighborhood had its own club,” Lusk says. “There was a rose society, orchids, just all kinds of clubs, so they needed a place to meet to show off what you could grow here in the Panhandle.”
Decades later, the space has grown and evolved into today’s Amarillo Botanical Gardens, where the Armstrongs’ dream of having a beautiful space to showcase Panhandle horticulture continues to be fulfilled. The gardens are supported entirely through the generosity of private donors and community volunteers. Lusk says it’s one of the most visited spots in Amarillo, with tens of thousands of local visitors and tourists every year.
“It’s amazing how many local people came here first on a field trip, and they remember an edible plant, something that smelled wonderful or they remember the bees,” Lusk says. “Several thousand kids come through each year on school field trips.”
Lusk says expanding the gardens is on the horizon, but for now, he and the team stay busy hosting beloved events like Pumpkin Fest in the fall, Christmas in the Gardens during the holiday season, and Music in the Gardens during the summer months. He credits a strong volunteer network with the garden’s continued success.
“We are built by the community,” he says. “As you go through, you see people’s names from our community everywhere. We were built by the community’s generosity, and that’s going to continue to be the focus for us.”
On Oct. 21, as the Lyman Whitaker sculptures are officially unveiled at a reception, another family will have its roots planted in the garden’s history. Linda’s son, Ben, will travel from Boston with his jazz trio to provide the soundtrack for the evening. In a nod to Armstrong’s former role as the mayor of Amarillo, Lusk has invited all the city’s living mayors to attend, along with some current and former city council members. After what has felt to most like a bitter season of local politics, he hopes the sculptures will bring people together.
“We can move forward,” he says. “People don’t come here to be mad. I think it’s a good place to do some healing.”
The Armstrong legacy is one of quiet, yet bold leadership, and Linda Kersh is proud of what her grandparents represent. “They were just givers; they were outstanding human beings,” she says. “Even if you took away everything that they accomplished for the town, just as human beings, they were just extraordinary people.”
Kersh says John would often say, “If everyone slowed down, they would find time for everything.” Strategically, she had the quote etched on a plaque placed in front of the sculptures. She hopes visitors will take time with the art in the gardens, and, like her grandfather, listen deeply.
“To really appreciate the art, you have to take a moment,” she says. “They just completely encapsulated what my grandparents stood for.”
Sculpture Unveiling Reception & Wine Tasting
Featuring Music by the Ben Kersh Trio
Saturday, Oct. 21
For tickets, call (806) 352-6513