I pulled into Buchners’ home-grown patch of Texas ranch turf. Through the ranch gates, I rumbled along the bumpy grooves of a pioneer wagon road into an island of wilderness. Prickly pears, mesquite, live oak, cholla cactus, cedar trees, and other greenery surrounded me.
It was a pleasantly warm, somewhat humid and overcast day, which gave the greens a stronger tint. I halted at the roundabout and shut off the motor. The deer briefly stared at my vehicle then continued grazing unperturbed. I took in the scenery.
There stood a bicycle on my right by a group of trees. That just wasn’t like the Buchners to leave equipment sitting out in the wild. Must have been the boys. They have two very lively grandsons. But the ladder next to the bicycle was a little harder to explain. It wasn’t leaning against a tree or shed, just standing free, reaching up in the air.
“This piece is called Going Nowhere,” Helmut Buchner said. Since he put it up, he has received numerous interpretations. Some have called it Jacob’s Ladder or Stairways to Heaven. But the ladder doesn’t go far enough. It ends in midair. And why does the bicycle not have a seat? Just for fun.
“Imagine someone tried to steal that,” Helmut said raising a slightly mischievous eyebrow. “They wouldn’t get very far.” So, now, what to make of the seat-less bicycle next to such a ladder? “I can’t tell you that,” Helmut said. “It’s all up to the observer.”
Far from a nihilistic approach, the artist created a contemplation device to approach the unknowns in somebody’s life. “This free standing ladder does not mean that there isn’t anything out there. Only that we don’t know what it could be,” Helmut said. The uncertainty of life’s path is in the mind of the beholder.
Helmut and Edda Buchner have lived a down-to-earth life since they settled on the Bat Cave Ranch property some 30 years ago. It is, for the most part, a naturally rugged homestead, as it came with live oaks, cedar trees, and a jumble of prickly growth. The couple—Helmut is an accomplished jewelry maker, Edda a passionate journalist and writer—has pursued numerous artistic endeavors. Some years ago, Helmut started building larger-than-life sculptures with natural or found materials. The Going Nowhere ladder, for example, is made of bamboo that grows behind the house, the bracket connectors are crafted from copper.
But, wait, there is much more. When I drove into the Buchners’ property, transfixed on the country road and grazing deer, I had missed the Friendship Flower Children on my right (see also top picture). Two larger-than-live human figures made from weathered wood pieces, handing each other a bunch of flowers.
“The power of flowers still works,” Helmut explained. “I was reminded of a time when young people stuck flowers into policemen’s barrels of guns.” Peaceful coexistence, right? “Yes, that is possible,” the artist believes. “Offering flowers is a nice gesture of good will to spend a few moments together, or brighten somebody’s day,” he added.
The kids’ favorite sculpture is the Balancing Person, a cedar wood fencepost with slender cedar “arms” stuck through a cutout, balancing with a bamboo stick. That is to say, life is a balance act every day. “We often forget that when caught up in everyday worries and challenges,” Helmut said. “Balance is never complete, but if we invest a little time and effort, we can come closer to it with our mind and inspiration.”
Along the drive, in view of the Flower Children, there stands Senix, an installation of weathered, split mesquite logs. The logs (for firewood) were gifted to the Buchners, who are known throughout the neighborhood to joyfully adopt recycled objects. “But it would have been a pity to burn them,” Helmut said. “Mesquite wood is highly desired by many craftsmen for its amazing texture and broad variety of colors, orange to ebony. You can’t see it now, but the beauty is hidden inside. I will polish a part of a wood block to expose the inner works.” He thought about the similarity to weathered people. You have to see beyond their wrinkles too.
Finally, over by the front yard live oaks Helmut created a labyrinth with Texas sandstone boulders that were collected during land clearings. A labyrinth is not a maze, Helmut says, because you don’t want to lose yourself but find yourself.
“There is no magic or cure in walking the labyrinth,” the artist-philosopher continued. “The key is to walk slowly, disregarding all thoughts of the past and the future, being content with the present moment. The labyrinth just serves as a tool to experience mindfulness.” Perhaps you will discover that the most recent frustrations are not a problem, at least not in life’s grand scheme.
And so friends might leave the Buchner Ranch as soulfully refreshed as the Happy Wanderer aka “Hermit,” who bids them good-bye on their way out. The Hermit, like the Flower Children, is a collage of wood fragments. Tired from the daily chores, he briskly walks back to home and hearth in joyful expectation. Soon there might be a loftier character running up the old oak tree behind the house. This “tree runner” must overcome the technical challenge of a 45 degree incline, but if it can be thought, it might as well be tried.
When you ask Helmut, you can go into a labyrinth to lose your problems and find yourself. Great idea! Helmut has assembled a gallery of appealing artifacts based on his life experience. They are all made from natural materials or found objects. Many such things are ordinarily tossed out or lost or scattered, but here they received a kind regard through an artistic intent. And Helmut is freely sharing his beautiful life assessment tools with anybody for a recalibration of their outlook. Fantastic!