Elise LeBovit had been a frequent visitor to Mytoi, the Japanese garden on Chappaquiddick, for years before she discovered that the garden’s name is not a Japanese word at all, but the moniker that architect Hugh Jones, the man who established the garden in the 1950s, gave to his project as a sort of his own Asian-influenced version of “My Toy.”
Jones was gifted the three-acre parcel by Mary Wakeman after he designed her Japanese-style house across the road from the plot on Dike Road in 1954. The architect set about creating the garden of his dreams, transforming the pitch pine forest land into a replica of a traditional Japanese place of contemplation and relaxation. After Jones’ death, Wakeman donated the garden and additional land surrounding it to the Trustees of Reservations in 1976.
Over the past decade or so, LeBovit has made her own pet project of Mytoi, photographing the grounds numerous times through all of the seasons.
“It’s just a peaceful place for me to get away to,” says LeBovit, explaining why she would choose to make the trek all the way from her home in Aquinnah to the furthest point possible on the Island.
“I’ve lived in Gay Head [Aquinnah] since the ’70s,” says LeBovit. “At that time everything was left open, and it was a real community. I get that same sense on Chappaquiddick now.”
LeBovit purchased the Duck Inn off State Road in Aquinnah in the 1980s. Periodically she changes up the artwork at the small bed and breakfast to showcase her photography, and every three years she hosts a public exhibition. The themed shows tend to revolve around nature. In the past she’s selected themes of trees, macro photos of flowers, and sea life. This time around, she’s dedicating the exhibit to her Mytoi images and, as always, she will invite the public to an opening.
Over the summer she displayed the photos outdoors at Mytoi during two different stroll-and-view events. “My friends couldn’t make the trip out to Chappy — waiting in a line for hours for the ferry — so I wanted to do something with the photos at the inn,” she says.
The images really capture the spirit of the Japanese garden, while also allowing us to see the world through LeBovit’s eyes. She explains that she has a form of dyslexia referred to as cross-domination. “Things are blurred at times,” she says, describing her somewhat distorted, hazy images as, “It’s the way I see things. That’s how they look to me.”
LeBovit says that she doesn’t manipulate her photos at all except to heighten the colors. That technique tends to bring out the striking contrast to be found in the garden — the bright scarlet leaves of a Japanese red maple against the dark greens of the surrounding coniferous shrubs, vibrant red berries punctuating the whitened branches of a winter-bare bush.
Particularly in the close-up shots of the canopy formed by trees in full leaf, the photos take on the look of an impressionist painting. “People always think they’re watercolors,” says the artist.
LeBovit studied photography and filmmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1960s. From there she moved to New York City and then to Virginia, where she established her own preschool. After working at the famed Seaview Hotel bar for a number of years, LeBovit moved back to working with kids, teaching at the Vineyard Montessori School, and establishing Camp Fun in Aquinnah, which she operated for 14 years.
All along LeBovit continued experimenting with photography, with a focus on her natural surroundings. It’s no surprise that she was drawn to the Chappy-based garden. She is an avid gardener who grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as medicinal plants, around the inn. Mytoi’s appeal also springs from the innkeeper’s former venture selling kimonos on the Island.
Last winter, just after the one major winter storm on the Island, LeBovit headed to Chappy to shoot Mytoi blanketed in snow. “Those turned out to be my favorite photos,” she says. “I bet people never get to see the garden like that.” From that series of snowy images sprang the idea to share her Mytoi images at the garden. She propped the pictures up on easels next to the plants and attractions that the images depicted, often including one from each of the four seasons. LeBovit says that the exhibits were very well received, with 100 percent of the profits going to the Trustees, who own and maintain the garden. “Everyone who came said it enhanced the gardens,” she says.
LeBovit will be selling framed and unframed images at the Duck Inn show this weekend. Prices will run from around $50 to $200. “I’m keeping the prices down because I want people to be able to buy them,” she says. Once again, the exhibit will serve as a fundraiser for the Trustees.
Photography show, Duck Inn, 10 Duck Pond Lane, Aquinnah; Saturday, Oct. 2, and Sunday, Oct. 3, from noon to 6 pm. 508-645-9018.