Skip to main content

Recent Projects  Performance as Gesture  Engines of War Exhibition  Seventeen Hundred Seeds  Square Dance  Cynthia Mulcahy Archive  Press  News and events  About/Contact   

    Performance as Gesture
         Songs for a City Park

                       Sunday, 5:00 to 7:00pm, October 25th, 2015
                       Japanese Garden, Kidd Springs Park

                       711 W. Canty St., Dallas, TX 75208

                            Spring Lantern, a two-ton granite stone lantern sent by the Japanese
                            Emperor’s government to A Century of Progress, the 1933 World’s
                            Fair in Chicago, is now installed in Kidd Springs Park. 1979 photograph
                            courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives.

                      Performance as Gesture: Songs for a City Park is a socially-engaged, research-based public artwork
                      by Cynthia Mulcahy that culminates in an evening of musical performances on Sunday, October 25th,
                      set amidst the historic Japanese Garden of Kidd Springs Park, a public city park located in the North
                      Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Performance as Gesture is intended to recognize the complex cultural
                      and civic history of the public park’s Japanese Garden, originally established in the late 1960s. The
                      artist-led public art project is funded by a new artist grant from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.


Left: Portrait of Oklahoma oil heiress Ethel Buell (c. 1920s), whose collection of Japanese antiquities now resides at Kidd Springs Park because of the efforts of her daughter,
        Betty Buell Bradstreet (young woman in right photograph with her mother c. 1930s). Photographs courtesy of Liz and Rob Mulford. Middle: 17th century Buddhist sculpture
        in Kidd Springs Park, Dallas (1979). Courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives.

          Japanese Garden at Kidd Springs Park in 1971, the year it was officially dedicated. Courtesy Dallas Park and Recreation Department.

         Nota bene: A printed broadsheet detailing the history of the Japanese Garden (with a Spanish translation) is available for free
                            for self-tours inside the Kidd Springs Park recreation building.

                     About the Grant

                     The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs inaugurated a new artist grant in 2015 to support Dallas-based
                     artist-led public art projects. Artist Cynthia Mulcahy was recently chosen as one of five artists to receive the
                     inaugural round of OCA Cultural Projects Program Special Support Grants for her socially-engaged public
                     artwork proposal for Kidd Springs Park. Additional monetary support provided by Judy Vetter and David
                     Durham. Translation services provided by Intercultural Translations.



          Kidd Springs Park History   


          Before the City of Dallas purchased the spring-fed lake and lush surrounding land for a public city park from the

          estate of Dallas banker Wirt Davis in 1947, Kidd Springs was already a popular privately owned green space

          with hugely attractive swimming, boating, and fishing facilities. Fiddle contests, political campaign rallies, orchestra

          concerts and large Labor Day celebrations were held in the park in the early decades of the 20th century. An

          especially popular draw in the 1940s were the enormous outdoor carnivals put on by the Texas Variety Club in

          honor of the American Federation of Labor featuring MGM and Universal stage and screen star acts, circus

          performers, the annual Turtle Derby and fireworks lasting until midnight.


          Once Kidd Springs became a public city park in 1947, Saturday night square dances, fishing rodeos, and city-wide

          softball continued to make Kidd Springs Park one of the most popular destinations around, however the city park

          remained segregated throughout the 1950s. Although the city never officially made racial segregation a law in public

          parks, conventions of dominant culture were rigid enough to enforce and privilege “White only” use of public facilities.

          In 1964 plans were made by the park department to build a modern recreation building. That same year, the daughter

          of Ethel Buell, an Oklahoma oil heiress, offered her mother’s collection of Japanese antiquities to the Dallas Park

          Department. Ethel Buell’s husband, J. Garfield Buell, had built a vast fortune prospecting for oil and buying land and

          leases in the early 20th century capitalist tradition, sometimes by nefarious means as a string of court cases involving

          the Creek Nation and other plaintiffs detail. By the Roaring Twenties, the Buell fortune allowed Ethel Buell to indulge

          her love of all things Japanese. In 1928 she had expert Japanese craftsman build traditional architectural structures

          for her ten-acre garden in Muskogee, Oklahoma and she used her connections in San Francisco, Chicago and New

          York to collect Japanese antiquities for her garden.


          When offered the Japanese art collection in 1964 by Ethel Buell's daughter, Betty Buell Bradstreet, the Dallas Park

          Department was able to acquire the entire collection through a monetary donation from Oak Cliff citizens Dr. & Mrs.

          Jack Edwards. With extensive landscaping and stonework designed by storied Dallas landscaping firm Lambert’s,

          a public dedication of the Japanese Garden was held in the spring of 1971. In a sign of the times, the garden was

          regrettably referred to as an "Oriental Garden" for the early part of its history in the manner of other public Japanese

          gardens in America that changed their names to "Oriental Garden" because of Japanese-American discrimination

          during World War II and subsequent years.

          Decades of park visitors from young lovers and elderly couples to mothers pushing strollers and weekend anglers have

          enjoyed what’s become a beloved public green space.

           Kidd Springs Park's Tōrō

           Spring Lantern, the ten-foot tall tōrō(lantern in Japanese) now residing in Kidd Springs Park is a wonderful example

           of a tachidōrō (pedestal lantern), a traditional feature of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan. The intricate

           carvings on the hexagonal box of these lanterns often depict deer, the moon and the sun. The Emperor of Japan's

           government originally sent Spring Lantern to the Japanese Pavilion and Garden Exhibition of A Century of Progress,

           the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1933. Ethel Buell was able to acquire Spring Lantern and another smaller lantern,

           Snow Lantern, from the exhibition through her good friend Takashi Komatsu, President of the America-Japan Society

           of Tokyo, who organized the Japanese Pavilion. Together the two lanterns weighed over four tons. Komatsu would later

           organize the landmark 20th century Japanese House exhibitions in 1954 and 1955 in the courtyard of the Museum of

           Modern Art in New York. Today only Spring Lantern remains in Kidd Springs. Snow Lantern, now missing from the

           garden, was originally located next to the roofed entrance gate still standing near the recreation building. Snow Lantern

           was a fine example of a four-legged yukimi-doro type of Japanese lantern, a low and wide design as traditional as the

           tall pedestal design of Spring Lantern.

            Kidd Springs Park's Buddhist Statues

           Two Buddhist statues that still exist in Springs Park today have been identified as 17th century Japanese antiquities.

           Made of granite stone like the garden’s lanterns, Buddhist statues are also traditionally placed at Buddhist temples

           and Shinto Shrines in Japan. Ethel Buell acquired these and three others in 1930 from George Turner Marsh, an early

           authority on Japanese art and antiquities in San Francisco. Marsh designed a Japanese Village with traditional

           architecture and a strolling garden for the California Midwinter International Exposition, the World’s Fair in San Francisco.

           Marsh designed a Japanese Village with traditional architecture and a strolling garden for the California Midwinter

           International Exposition, the World's Fair in San Francisco in 1893. At the close of the fair, the San Francisco Parks

           Department bought the entire much-loved exhibition house and gardens, which became the Japanese Tea Garden

           in Golden Gate Park, the oldest public Japanese garden in America and one of San Francisco's most beloved tourist

           sites. In 1911 railroad magnate Henry Huntington bought George Turner Marsh's entire Japanese house and

           strolling garden in Pasadena for his estate in San Marino outside Los Angeles, which eventually became The

           Huntington Library in 1928, one of America's great museums and botanical gardens.

           When Ethel Buell purchased five stone Buddhist statues from George Turner Marsh in 1930, they came with

           documentation attesting to their age of at least two hundred years old (18th century or older) The two granite

           bodhisattva statues that remain in the Japanese Garden in Kidd Springs represent either the patron of travelers

           and children or Bosatsu, a contemplative disciple of Buddha. Originally Kidd Springs contained three, possibly

           four statues.

           Kidd Springs Park's Bell, Gates, Bridge and Teahouse          

           Performance as Gesture: Songs for a City Park is also a lament for what has since over the years disappeared

           from the Japanese Garden at Kidd Springs Park including a number of the original garden structures. A bell tower

           with an irreplaceable Japanese Buddhist temple bell identified as Edo Period (1773), a twelve foot tall torii gate

           once installed in the park's lake and an intricate bridge that spanned the creek are now missing from the garden.

           The bell tower, the torii gate and the bridge were built by expert Japanese craftsmen in Japan, then numbered,

           disassembled and shipped to Ethel Buell's Oklahoma garden in 1928.

           Aerial photographs of Kidd Springs' lake from the 1970s in archives show where the torii gate, based on the famous

           original in Miyajima in the Inland Sea of Japan, was once installed. A beautiful red bridge that spanned the creek

           was built based on the famous red bridge in Nikko all the way down to the intricate woodwork and brass finials. The

           bell tower housing the Edo Period bronze bell was located on the hill above the Spring Lantern in the garden. All that

           remains of the 1928 structures is the roofed entrance gate, since heavily altered. A teahouse added in later years to

           the garden is also now gone.