ohio outsider artist ben hartman

Ben Hartman was a molder for the Springfield (Ohio) Machine Tool Company. He and his wife, Mary, lived with their three children on the corner of Russell and McCain Avenues.

During the Great Depression, Ben lost his job at the tool company. Struggling to keep active, he built a cement fishing pond in the backyard. This was just the beginning. Over the next 12 years, Ben kept building a variety of small houses, walls, and figures, all deriving from religious and American historical subjects.

By 1939, Ben was back working at the tool company and spent less time perfecting his stone garden. He died in 1944 of silicosis, likely from his molding work at the company. Mary maintained the garden for the next 53 years. After her death in 1997, the garden went in to neglect. In 2008, the Kohler Foundation purchased the lot and restored the backyard. A year later they transferred ownership to the Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden.

Ben’s backyard is a visionary environment, a work by a self-taught artist that was primarily created for his own joy. Like many Outsider Artists, Ben’s artwork is highly religious (Christian). The work is monumental, not only in its physical scope. A visitor to his garden is left feeling an intimate connection to Ben, a soul laid bare in a rural suburb’s backyard.

(biographical content from hartmanrockgarden.org and the brochure available at the garden)

Springfield Central Fire Station (concrete, red brick, dolostone, and stream gravel)

Springfield Central Fire Station (concrete, red brick, dolostone, and stream gravel)

detail of one of the many houses

detail of one of the many houses

detail near the Liberty Bell; below the Bell is WWI's Flanders Field with crosses and fallen soliders

detail near the Liberty Bell; below the Bell is WWI’s Flanders Field with crosses and fallen soldiers

detail of the Cathedral, a 14' tall structure; this niche is The Last Supper

detail of the Cathedral, a 14′ tall structure; this niche is The Last Supper

another detail from the Cathedral; Ben wasn't Catholic but there are many Virgin Mary statutes in the yard

another detail from the Cathedral; Ben wasn’t Catholic but there are many Virgin Mary statutes in the yard

The 12' tall Castle had a moat, drawbridge, and over 100 windows

The 12′ tall Castle had a moat, drawbridge, and over 100 windows

Fort Dearborn

Fort Dearborn

an overview of the yard; in the back right is the Tree of Life (country, school, and church)

an overview of the yard; in the back right is the Tree of Life (country, school, and church)

I’ll post more photos on my Tumblr and Instagram @artistlibrarian