I learned a new word today while researching this blog. Or at least a new definition for the word in question. We’ve all experienced the meaning of the word folly and/or its plural. Whether used to describe foolish behaviors or thoughts, useless undertakings, or disastrous actions, the word folly is a favorite for critics. And for those who wish to disagree with or disparage the decisions or efforts of others.
But the other meaning for “follies” is more whimsical. In fact, follies are eccentric structures built primarily as architectural ornaments. They are often located in gardens and appear as full fledged buildings, though usually are not functional as such. They may include fakery in their design (for example, deliberately built “ruins” and “ancient” temples.) Their intent isn’t to be functional. Instead these curious constructions are created and built purely for pleasure and for looks.
Related to follies is another type of garden whimsy called grottoes. Often religious in nature, these artificial creations are delightful sparkly caves embellished with thousands upon thousands of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, ceramic tiles, glass, and more. Midwest America has the largest number of such grottoes, most of which were originally built by German Catholic priests inspired by 18th & 19th century European traditions.
The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend Iowa is the largest single grotto in the world with four million dollars worth of minerals cemented in its walls. There is lovely example at the Holy Ghost Grotto in Dickeyville, Wisconsin.There are several smaller grottoes located in West Burlington and Guttenberg. Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids had a beautiful grotto and lake called Our Mother of Sorrows which will be partially restored soon. On Nov. 3rd, Lisa Stone (a curator and professor at the School of Art Institute of Chicago) will present a lecture called “Grottoes in the Heartland” at 7:00 p.m. in Donnelly 300 at Mercy. For information, see:
What both follies and grottoes represent are self-made outside worlds, created for pleasure and inspiration by people with a different vision. Garden follies use traditional architecture and construction techniques. While grottoes are more a visionary folk or outsider art form built by those with no formal training (and plenty of cheap cement!)
If you’d like to see some but don’t have time to travel, there’s an excellent book at ICPL that includes grotto examples called Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments by Roger Manley. You can also read about the West Bend and Dickeyville grottoes in a number of Iowa and Wisconsin travel guides (at 917.77 and 917.75 upstairs in nonfiction.) Using Google and the Internet, you can find many examples of grotto, folly, and other self-made worlds, including an excellent site called “NarrowLarry’s World of the Outstanding.” Check it out below and enjoy!