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News: From The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens:


March 05, 2019

Wellheads- Functional Objects and Decorative Features

Like a number of features documented in The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens, wellheads once served a utilitarian purpose but are now used as a decorative garden element. Dating as far back as the Middle Ages, wellheads were common throughout Europe, especially in Venice.

For centuries, Venice was dependent on wells to supply fresh water to its citizens. Around every well was a wellhead acting as a curb protecting the valuable freshwater. By 1858 the number of wellheads in Venice, both public and private, totaled approximately 7,500. Creating these wellheads became an art form with sculptors carving intricate designs into the stone. By the end of the nineteenth century an aqueduct connected Venice to a freshwater supply and the city was no longer dependent on wells, or wellheads, for its water.

Using wellheads as a decorative garden feature began shortly after there was no longer a vital need for them. The trend crossed the ocean to the United States when affluent Americans traveled abroad and saw the attractive and elaborate examples. At the time, antiques were in high demand, and thanks to the popularity of formal Italianate gardens, many Americans returned home with wellheads to incorporate into their gardens.

Due to their popularity, the supply of Venetian wellheads dwindled. This prompted American firms such as Tiffany & Co. to begin producing and selling their own versions. Though they no longer serve the function for which they were originally created, garden owners still find purpose for wellheads by turning them into unique focal points and planters.



Photo 1: Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA. May 1990. Eleanor C. Weller, photographer.

Photo 2: Haskell Garden, New Bedford, MA, June 2001. John S. Penny, photographer.

Photo 3: A Dallas Family Garden, Dallas, TX. March 2009. Elsie Norman Dunklin, photographer.

Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. By Kathryn Schroeder, AAG/GCA Garden History and Design Intern. July 2015.




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