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On a sunny day last week, Greg Ormsby looked at his front yard and thought to himself: What is it? Is it ice? Is it water? Is it a pond? Is it diamonds?
Hundreds of people drive past Ormsby’s house at 705 Harvard St. NW each day, many of them stopping in front to wait for the light at Georgia Avenue. He hopes they ask themselves the same questions.
Ormsby’s roughly 7-by-20-foot yard is covered in 2 inches of shattered auto glass, spread across a white tarp. On top sits a group of 2-foot-long logs wrapped in steel chains. Ormsby redesigns his yard about every week, trying out different combinations of glass, wood, and metal.
“It’s not the yard itself, but the interaction with the people who are going to see it,” the 39-year-old says. “Most of [them] are in a hurry, going to work, and maybe they seldom get to an art museum. It’s about putting something out in a place where people wouldn’t expect it—in ways they wouldn’t expect to see them.”
Ormsby has been studying art since he was an art/anthropology double major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the ’80s, when he met one of his greatest influences, Malaysian artist Wong Hoy Cheong. But his interest in transforming his yard into a piece of sculpture was sparked during a trip to Indonesia this summer. There, he says, he discovered “public art houses,” spaces where groups of painters and sculptors display their work on main streets, allowing spectators to wander among it.
Ormsby’s current, untitled configuration is the third in a series that will continue until winter arrives. He worries about children on the street playing with the glass, but he’s right about the effect it has during daytime hours: When the sunlight hits the shards, it bounces in a thousand directions, giving the artist’s yard the look of a small, icy pool. The design preceding it, called Portal, featured a large sheet of plate glass laid flat and surrounded by a bed of large green seeds from surrounding trees. The initial design, Release, provided some obvious symbolism: A vertical, doorlike sheet of glass wrapped in a padlocked chain. In front of it, a choice: a hammer and a set of keys.
“The things that I put out there aren’t necessarily new and amazing art,” says Ormsby. “But they’re arranged according to ideas that came to me and…with this particular space in mind and the people going by.”
Ormsby has certainly succeeded in interesting those who go by. Sarah, who lives two doors away (and prefers to be identified by first name only), remembers Ormsby’s earliest experimenting with his space: He hung an arm made of metal, bubble wrap, and Saran Wrap from his front tree and placed another arm and a leg elsewhere in the yard.
“My grandkids asked me, ‘Is he going to make the rest of the body?’” says Sarah, whose own yard is full of patchy grass and weeds. “It’s just different, and it piques your curiosity. You want to know why. I guess it’s kind of good, because it gives the kids something to question. They seem to like it.”