Bubbling fountains engage the senses

At the start of a new year, those lists of what's "in" and what's "out" are almost as plentiful as well-meaning resolutions. They read like edicts, making us feel uncool if we associate with anything in the "out" column. One thing these predictors of cooldom don't agree on, however, is the indoor water fountain, a big-selling item in the feng shui-loving 1990s.

No one's quite sure if the water fountain's popularity has dried up. If the recent holiday season is any indication, however, they are in. Big time. From Neiman Marcus to The Nature Company and The Home Depot, they trickled on tables, shelves, and floors, beckoning shoppers to scoop one up for the friend who has everything.

One person who's making sure water fountains stay in vogue is Paris Mannion. For the past two years, Ms. Mannion has taught workshops in San Diego, Calif., to those interested in crafting their own. She also publishes a newsletter, writes books, and hosts a website on the topic.

Since the first issue came out two years ago, subscriptions to Mannion's newsletter have increased from 300 to 9,500, and Amazon.com sales of her "Create Your Indoor Fountain: Expressions of the Self" have surged to nearly 34,000.

"People are charmed by the sound of moving water," she explains. "These fountains provide an important connection to nature, and making one's own brings so much joy. People really unleash their creativity."

Not to mention that crafting your own fountain saves money. Commercial fountains range from about $40 for tabletop varieties to several hundred dollars for a large, elaborately sculpted one. For the price of an attractive earth-toned bowl, a pump (about $15), and some rocks or shells, you can create the same effect.

Gathering stuff to fill that bowl is half the fun, says Bonnie McGrath, who also teaches fountainmaking workshops. She sells ceramic turtle, frog, and Japanese mudmen ornaments for a touch of whimsy. But she likes natural materials best. Ms. McGrath has combed just about every beach to the north and south of her home in Acton, Mass., and she keeps her eyes wide open during trips to other parts of the country.

"Once you get started with this, you won't go anywhere without looking for stones and shells," she tells four women as they build their first fountains at her kitchen worktable. Circling them in her purple fleece vest, crystal necklace, and Birkenstocks, McGrath adds with a gleam in her eye that her next trip will be to Florida's Sanibel Island, known for its abundance of lovely shells.

Clearly, McGrath approaches this passion as art. With her quiet, soothing voice, she coaches the students, careful not to do their work for them, but to encourage their own creativity: "First of all, try to cover the pump," she says. "Go for a natural look. You could choose a vertical, cavelike design, stepping stones, or a layered-on-top look, form a mountain toward the back and a pool in front, or a mountain in the middle. Most of all, though, forget the words 'supposed to be.' "

Ibelle Sebastian, a dentist from Wrentham, Mass., takes quickly to McGrath's class and wastes no time voicing plans to build a second fountain.

"Flowing water reminds me of life," she says, "and in the dead of winter, that's essential!"

Wintertime is definitely a time of increased interest, but McGrath recommends that fountains trickle and cascade in homes all year round.

"The sound of a peaceful mountain stream always has a relaxing effect," she says, motioning toward the fountain in a corner of her living room, "And with our busy, often stressful lives, who couldn't use that?"

For more information, visit the website: www.buildfountains.com.

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