Bud Kennedy

In Fort Worth, part of our sculpture is missing: Where are the ‘Zen garden’ rocks?

The original “Texas Sculpture” by Isamu Noguchi included a desert garden.
The original “Texas Sculpture” by Isamu Noguchi included a desert garden. Noguchi Museum

It’s one of the oldest unsolved mysteries in downtown Fort Worth.

And it involves 15 missing rocks.

Sometime in the 1970s, workers removed the stones from a downtown sculpture garden.

There weren’t just rocks. These were special green stones imported from the Japanese island of Shikoku, selected and arranged by American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi in 1961 as a “Zen garden” entryway to a new West Seventh Street tower.

Three larger pieces carved from imported Mount Tsukuba granite remain, one 20 feet tall. They’ll stay in the partly restored plaza for what is now First on 7th, 500 W. Seventh St., originally First National Bank and later a Bank of America.

But what happened to the smaller rocks?

Who has them?

And how do 15 green Shikoku stones vanish?

“It’s the remains of a sculpture at this point,” said Dakin Hart, senior curator at the Noguchi Museum on Long Island.

“It’s only the ruins. The work of art was not only those three remaining pieces. It was the entire garden.”

Retired executives from Bank of America, originally the First National Bank of Fort Worth, say nobody remembers when the garden was taken out or where several tons of stones went.

According to photos at historicaerials.com, the garden was removed between 1970 and 1979.

Project leader Red Oak Realty and the current building owners, including Glenn Darden of Fort Worth, would like to find the long-missing pieces, Hart said. The owners and Noguchi Museum officials have met about how to best preserve and showcase the larger granite sculptures in the new plaza at First on 7th, a retail-restaurant-office development.

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The First on 7th plaza will be redone into a more decorative garden. Handout photo

“The main thing is to do no more harm,” Hart said.

“What’s important now is to have a successful project. As long as it’s a healthy project, there is always a possibility to restore more.”

Noguchi (1904-1988), born in Los Angeles but reared in Japan, was an artist and landscape architect known for a series of commercial projects and also for furniture such as the Noguchi table.

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The original “arid garden” and granite sculpture by Isamu Noguchi at what is now the First on 7th building in downtown Fort Worth. Stryker's Western Fotocolor

In a 1960 interview, he described the sculpture as an “energy symbol,” “related to the forcefulness and drive of the Great Southwest,” saying the Japanese granite pieces and green schist-quartz rocks would be spread among cactus and yucca.

Workers built a half-mile of road on Mount Tsukuba just to retrieve the granite for the larger pieces, Noguchi wrote.

The setting was meant to combine the harmony and reverence of a Japanese Zen garden with a southwestern setting, the Star-Telegram wrote.

At a time when Burnett Park across the street was downtown’s primary plaza and site of the downtown Christmas tree — this was long before it became the home of the 50-foot-tall “Man With Briefcase” aluminum sculpture — the bank sculpture garden was not as popular.

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The original “Texas Sculpture” by Isamu Noguchi included a desert garden. Noguchi Museum

A Star-Telegram reader even wrote in 1978 that the “so-called sculpture … is a monstrosity and should be removed.”

But others feel the Zen.

The Kimbell Art Museum south lawn features Noguchi’s “Constellation,” a 1980-83 work in basalt given to honor friend and architect Louis Kahn.

“Noguchi straddled American culture and Japanese culture,” Kimbell director Eric Lee said.

Noguchi “placed stones artfully and intuitively within a setting,” Lee said, complimenting the First on 7th sculptures as “really nice — they are wonderful works.”

First on 7th has designed a handsome new plaza around Noguchi’s granite sculptures.

But we’d still like to find those rocks.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.

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