The Valley House Sculpture Garden

A Short History

image of garden entrance    Valley House Garden entrance designed by Tary Arterburn, Studio Outside. circa 2016

In early 1953 art dealers Donald and Margaret Vogel (Peggy), lured by a wall of trees and a white picnic table, stood on a dead-end gravel section of Spring Valley Road in far north Dallas County, and made a decision that would change their lives and, through the next 70 years, the lives of many others.  After walking through the heavily wooded property to a creek, they returned to the site of the picnic table to be met by the owner.  Donald asked if the property was available for sale and the owner replied, “for a price”.  Without bargaining, they committed to purchase the property on the spot and closed on April fool’s day, paying more money per acre than anyone had ever paid in the area at that time.

The Vogel’s already had the concept of building a home and studio on a property they had just sold on Forest Park Road in Dallas, so they decided to transplant their dream to their new acquisition.  Once they had cleared enough trees off their 4+ acres to start building, they engaged modernist architect John Wesley Jones to draw up plans for Donald’s house and studio design.  Knowing that if Donald could not make a living as an artist and art dealer, he could always do so in the picture framing business, so the Vogels had Jones design a “frame factory” to be built simultaneously with the house.  An apartment was designed into the back of the shop to house a framer if necessary.  When the house was finished, the Vogels named it “Valley House” and opened the frame shop the next year.

When the Betty McLean Gallery, where both Donald and Peggy worked, closed in late 1954, their two bedroom-two bath home not only acted as their house and Donald’s studio, but it also became the “original” Valley House Gallery.  Shortly thereafter, while in the process of installing a sand bottom pond in the back garden, they discovered that the survey team, who had been hired to establish the property lines, mistakenly shot the property using the wrong reference marker.  Because of this error, they lost a significant amount of land along their western border, and they had to back fill part of the pond excavation.

In 1957 a gallery space outside of the family residence was created by an addition onto the south side of the frame shop that incorporated the unused framer’s apartment.  The new building was behind a small pump building and water tank that supplied the property with water.  To hide the water supply and set the landscape design for the house and the front part of the property, the Vogel’s enlisted the assistance of landscape architects Marie and Arthur Berger.  The Bergers designed a redwood fence and brick pathway that surrounded the waterworks to provide intimate spaces to display sculpture.  They also created a terrace and walkway around the residence.

Berger design plan for gallery   Marie and Arthur Berger landscape design around the Valley House well house

With an idea of turning the back acreage into an outdoor continuation of the gallery to display sculpture, the Vogel’s enlisted the help of landscape architect Clarence Roy.  Roy created a modernist design with winding paths, uniquely styled bridges to traverse water features, and places where sculpture could be creatively sited.  Finished in 1959, the inaugural exhibition was a retrospective of University of Texas sculpture professor Charles Umlauf. In 1960, Roy’s Valley House Garden won best garden design in its size category from House and Home Magazine.  With the success of the Umlauf show, the Vogel’s started a tradition of Spring sculpture shows in the garden. 

Roy Garden design    Clarence Roy concept drawing for Valley House Garden

garden in 1962    Clarence Roy Garden design in 1962

In early October 1964, White Rock Creek, normally a meandering stream that bordered their property to the south, flooded.  The rising water dramatically exceeded the Army Core of Engineer’s maximum flood estimates, and 54 inches of muddy water inundated the family’s residence.  With the help of many volunteers and a flood sale, the Vogels were able to quickly recover and return to the residence.  The year ended on a positive note when Valley House Gallery received an invitation to be the first gallery in the Southern part of the United States to join the prestigious Art Dealers Association of America. 

Moore Show 65   Henry Moore show in 1965

In April of 1965, Valley House had its most important sculpture show when over 50 Henry Moore sculptures were exhibited throughout the gallery and garden.  From 1966 to 1968 the gallery did not present one-person exhibitions, they instead focused on invitational group shows.

lake looking north 65   View of Lake looking North, Henry Moore show, 1965

In 1968, because of a separate business opportunity involving opening another gallery in downtown Dallas called Main Place Gallery, and Peggy developing cancer, the traditional Spring sculpture shows were put on hold.  Peggy succumbed to her illness in 1974 and for the next seven years, other than a steady tide of sculpture coming in and going out, the garden did not change much beyond its normal seasonal variations. 

The garden began to rejuvenate in 1981 when Donald married Erika Farkac who had been the chief landscape designer at Lambert Landscape Company for over 18 years.  For the next 20 years, she redesigned and improved the garden.

spider lilies   Spider Lilies looking East across North Side of Lake

After Donald passed away in 2004, Erika moved to Oregon to be with family and Donald and Peggy’s son Kevin and his wife Cheryl, who had been running the gallery for over 15 years, started their own renovations to the home, gallery, and garden.  With the help of landscape architect Tary Arterburn, a principal of the landscape firm Studio Outside, the garden has continued to develop with a redesign of the new courtyard entrance to the gallery and a redeveloped new garden entry.

concert in the garden   Orchestra of New Spain concert in the Valley House Garden during covid, 2021

With these updates in place, Kevin and Cheryl started to reintroduce one-person exhibitions to the garden, showing works by Dallas-based sculptors Deborah Ballard and Michael O’Keefe, and Italian sculptor Alex Corno.  The garden also hosts lecture series, musical performances, and has an open invitation policy for artists and art classes to work en plein air.  Kevin refers to the garden as a “spiritual” or “sanctuary” garden where visitors can walk in solitude enjoying both art and nature. 

Art critic, author, and poet Dr. Willard Spiegelman wrote after walking the Valley House Garden:

If, on a cold, blustery, and depressing day you find yourself experiencing calm and beauty outdoors, you know you have made a major discovery. I spent 40 minutes under the dripping trees. My shoes got wet. My spirits soared. That’s what beauty does for you…the gallery garden filled me with thoughts of spring.

Today, the Valley House Garden is open when the gallery is open, normally 10 -5, Monday through Saturday.  Both are closed on Sunday.