As a child, I lived in a six-story brick apartment building in Brooklyn, adorned with a heavy black gate that led to a sparse and musty vestibule. Houses with pointed roofs and pristine grass lawns were seen only on screens or infrequent trips to a family friend who lived in Long Island.
In central Austin, however, more than just grass occupies the space in front of many homes. Animals, mythical creatures, and religious figures are the most popular front yard accoutrements, but their style, quantity, and placement vary from house to house. Their purpose can be practical, silly, or more deeply embedded in religious and political beliefs. Regardless of their intent, the presence of lawn ornaments is a reminder that the desire to distinguish and express ourselves can be as instinctive and fundamental as having four walls and a roof over our heads.
Unlike the backyard or the inside of our home, our front yard decorations are on display to the passersby and exist for both the public and ourselves. We want to create unique and meaningful spaces that are distinctly ours and no one else’s, and we also want to present to the world a small slice of our identity, as serious or as light-hearted as it may be. Similar to a bumper sticker or tattoo, these displays are outward self-expressions that we can control, an intentional message that we want others to see and interpret. Though front yard figurines can leave much to the imagination when trying to decode the type of people their owners might be, they are much more telling than a blank canvas of stubbly grass and concrete. ◥