The Labyrinth

Making a Meaningful Landscape

By: Jeffrey Bale
Jeffrey-Bale-headshot
http://www.jeffreygardens.blogspot.com

JEFFREY BALE is a garden artist known for his pebble mosaic work. He graduated from the University of Oregon with…

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Labyrinth, 2014. Jeffrey Bale  Bainbridge Island, Washington

Labyrinth, 2014. Jeffrey Bale Bainbridge Island, Washington

Whenever I build gardens, I try to incorporate sacred elements and meaning within them. Stone mosaic, a medium I have been practicing for the past three decades, is my way to make the hardscape or built aspect of a landscape into something artful, meaningful, and even profound. When I was asked to build a stone mosaic labyrinth on an island in Puget Sound in Washington State, I realized an opportunity to create something overflowing with meaning. I can honestly say that the work, for me, was shamanistic.

Spring flowers Labyrinth detail. Photo: Jeffrey Bale

Spring flowers Labyrinth detail. Photo: Jeffrey Bale

The site required a carefully rendered base of compacted gravel surrounded by a perfectly round 36-foot-diameter steel ring. I chose and modified the classic 11-circuit medieval labyrinth design found in the Chartres Cathedral in France. Counting the center, there are a total of 12 circuits, a numerological relationship to the months and full moons of the year. In Native American astrology, we are born under a lunar rather than a solar sign. Each moon has a plant, animal, and mineral totem, and a color associated with it that relates to the time of year in which it occurs. I oriented the entrance of the labyrinth to the east and the loops that connect the different circuits to each other fall at the other cardinal directions. The mosaic paths are made of beautiful hand-collected stones from different beaches in the region and an assortment of materials with special meaning gifted to me by visitors during construction. The space between the circuits is filled with permeable crushed stone.

In the outermost 11th circuit, I made 12 lunar mosaics of white quartzite beach stone surrounded by colored stones associated with each moon. In the 10th circuit, I made a ring of 108 oval stones to form a Tibetan mala, a prayer bead necklace used to count a sacred cycle of chants or prayers. A bronze Tibetan prayer wheel in the park is symbolically connected to the Labyrinth through this circuit. When the prayer wheel is turned nine times, a bell inside it rings. Whenever I heard the bell ring as I was setting stone, I made a pebble flower in the mosaic work dedicated to the people who turned the wheel. Over the three months it took to build the labyrinth, hundreds of pebble flowers and other symbols were added to the design.

The warmth of the Summer Solstice in the Bainbridge Island Labyrinth. Photo: Jeffrey Bale

The warmth of the Summer Solstice in the Bainbridge Island Labyrinth. Photo: Jeffrey Bale

The nine inner circuits are dedicated to the planets in our solar system and the mythology of the Roman and Greek Gods after which they are named. Pluto (downgraded from planet status) is dedicated to the Underworld. The Neptune circuit is all about water and the seas, and I made starfish instead of flowers. Uranus, the God of the Sky, has abstract swallows flying in a sun-wise direction from east to west. Saturn has clocks, Jupiter has lightning bolts, Mars has spears, the Earth has stones and objects donated by visitors, Venus has hearts, and in the Mercury circuit I returned to making flowers. At the center, a burst of colored pebbles represents the Sun. The finished work is intended to be intrinsically linked to the natural environment, the cosmos, and the myths we create to explain our connection to these things. I can only imagine what will transpire as more and more people walk it over time.

Marking the Spring Equinox in the Labyrinth Photo: Jeffrey Bale

Marking the Spring Equinox in the Labyrinth Photo: Jeffrey Bale

The park where the Labyrinth is located is on private land that is open to the public. Because of the quiet nature of the place, we have opted not to reveal its exact location. If you really want to experience the labyrinth in person you have to find it—perhaps a spiritual path in itself!


As each circuit of the Labyrinth was completed Jeffery posted an essay on his blog revealing in intimate detail how the project was unfolding. Visit www.jeffreygardens.blogspot.com to read the entire collection.