Creating ‘Big Rock Garden Nursery’ and ‘Gardens of Art – Gallery of Fine Art for the Garden.’
On April 11, 1981 George and Mary Ann Drake opened their new business “Big Rock Garden Nursery” on a 2-1/2 acre parcel of wooded land next to their home on the top of the hill in the Silver Beach neighborhood of Bellingham, Washington. The purpose was to provide an employment opportunity for brain damaged, developmentally disabled and mentally ill young persons in a supportive environment. The Drakes decided to specialize in plants for the Asian garden and soon had over 400 varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas and over 100 named varieties of Japanese maples in the inventory along with other varieties of plants for sale. As time went on many of these varieties were planted in the environment so buyers could see what a mature plant would look like.
George and Mary Ann liked art for the garden but found not a single fine art gallery in a lovely garden setting on the west coast of North America. George decided to open an art gallery among the plants they were selling which he called “Gardens of Art – Fine Art for the Garden.” Soon he had sculpture on consignment from artists all over the U.S. As often as he could Drake packed the company truck with sculpture and drove to the Seattle Garden Show, the Horticultural Exhibit at the PNE building in Vancouver, BC, to the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, Washington, and to many other locations in Washington State and British Columbia promoting the sale of fine art for the garden. At one of these exhibits in Vancouver, B.C, he met David Marshall, Georg Schmerholz, Geert Maas, Zelko Kjundzic, Lee Gass and other BC sculptors. The next year they were all showing their sculptures in Drake’s “Gardens of Art” in Bellingham.
One day the President/CEO of Caitac Corporation, a major clothing manufacturer in Japan, visited Drake at the nursery/art gallery. He spotted one of David Marshall’s sculptures and asked about the artist. Drake told him about David. “How much?” he asked. “$12,000” Drake replied. He walked on. “Is that one also by Marshall?” he asked as he pointed to “Transition”. Drake responded “Yes.” “How much?” “$18,000.” “I’ll take that one” he said and continued walking casually through the garden/gallery as though he had just purchased a dozen eggs. It was the largest sale of a work by David up to that time. David was flabbergasted!
After 12 years of operation as a private nursery/art gallery the City of Bellingham made an offer to the Drakes to purchase their land on the hilltop to create a city park which the Drakes accepted. That last year of business the Drakes sold over a quarter of a million dollars of fine art for the garden proving that there was a role for such a gallery.