Splash & Spectacle

Fountains are perhaps the most mercurial of all art forms. Since the Renaissance and before, they've teased the imagination of artists while testing the know-how of engineers. Water can't be shaped with a chisel or a mold, but in the hands of a fountain designer it can be coaxed into an endless number of forms--geysers, trickles, moving sheets, clouds of spray.

From June 9 through October 11, the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York is presenting the first major exhibition on the design of fountains. Pulling together more than 250 rare drawings, prints and photographs, along with video clips, "Fountains: Splash and Spectacle" will explore fountains and their uses from the Renaissance to the present.

Writer Doug Stewart, in addition to exploring the intriguing history of fountains, also traveled across America in search of contemporary fountains that soothe our souls and restore our spirits. Along the way, he discovered watery creations such as Maya Lin's Sounding Stones, a Zen-like fountain on the edge of New York's Chinatown; Houston's massive Transco Waterwall, designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee; and the Water Court at California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. And in each of these busy city landscapes, he found a tranquil refuge defined by the presence of a fountain.

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