Dallas artist sheds light on homes and gardens
JOHN Watson is an unusual artist who ``sculpts'' with light and shadow to create his own style of landscape art. Since 1947, he has brightened Dallas with his ``landscape illumination,'' a term he coined to describe the art field he pioneered. For almost four decades, he has been refining his art on projects as big as world's fairs, corporate headquarters, hotels, clubs, and parks, and as small as private homes ranging in size from luxurious estates to middle-income houses.Skip to next paragraph
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``I created an outdoor lighting service 38 years ago,'' Mr. Watson recalls, ``for which there was already a pent-up demand. People were building fine homes and wanting to show them off and enjoy them at night as well as during the day. They wanted to embellish and highlight the most attractive features of their properties and to put weaker portions in shadow.''
Watson had the technological know-how, the education, and the artistic flair to provide customers with what they wanted. He grew up in a small Texas town and earned a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture from Texas A&M College, working his way through college by helping out in his father's cotton business. After a stint at the Sorbonne in Paris and time spent studying the lighting of such French monuments like the Palace of Versailles, he wrote a master's-degree thesis, the first of its kind, on exterior lighting.
Before opening his business in Dallas, Watson also studied art in Taos, N.M., and spent four years learning about the many aspects of lighting at Nelo Park, General Electric's Lighting Institute, in Cleveland. After these experiences, he says, he was ready to think of landscape illumination as an art -- ``an orchestrated drama of light'' in which he could express his talents with directed and controlled light rather than with paint, brush, and canvas.
When the FBI announced that good lighting was a major deterrent of crime, his clients became equally interested in landscape illumination as a security measure. He was then able to design systems that served both aesthetic and security requirements.
``While experts and researchers sometimes debate the actual effect of lighting on crime,'' says Joe A. Mele, loss prevention specialist of the National Crime Prevention Institute at the University of Louisville, ``a body of research upholds the fact that security lighting has the greatest effect on controlling crime.'' Even if lighting a house in some areas creates pockets of dark shadows, the fact that the house is lighted to begin with is a deterrent to crime.
``A lot of people think we must be very expensive,'' Watson says, ``but actually our bread-and-butter jobs are in the $3,000 to $6,000 range. We do hundreds of modest homes every year, although those people who own very large estates do often spend between $30,000 and $80,000 for lighting systems.''
The energy crunch of 1974, notes Watson, turned out to be a very good thing for business because it forced him to refine his equipment and techniques to create longer-lasting lighting at less cost. He describes a garden he redesigned in Dallas in which he used ``25 percent of the original energy for one-quarter of the cost, and with coverage that had more sparkle and brilliance, and lamps that lasted 10 times as long.''