Artist’s yard is a big chess set 

It’s not every San Francisco garden that can boast a king, a queen and an entire court to boot.

But Nomi Klein’s garden, in a quiet stretch of the outer Richmond, does just that — with a gold and white fiberglass chess set Klein designed.

The tallest game piece measures 43 inches high and the entire set sits atop a 16-foot-by-16-foot board made of paving tiles.

Each piece weighs around 12 pounds. And while the figurines dominate the small backyard, they also lend a gentle order to a space that Klein says was once nothing but grass, weeds and sand.

The tile chess board is bordered by a gravel walkway, grasses and flowers like lavender and pansies in purples, white and yellows and the garden has an easy, impromptu look.

Klein scattered seeds and split grasses to save the cost of buying and planting whole plants throughout the garden and she experiments with plants to see what takes well to the space and requires little water and constant maintenance.

A green shed in the back corner of the yard is intended to blend in with the flora.

“I want to leave it very, very simple,” Klein says. “The chess will be the main thing.”

A Meyer lemon tree is a nod to the Bay Area and an avocado tree reminds her of the 80 fruit trees she left behind in San Diego when she moved here around a year ago to be closer to family. A pomelo tree, with its oversized fruit, is the perfect foil to the massive chess pieces, she says.

Klein said she first thought of creating a massive chess set when she was a child visiting Salzburg, Austria, and saw people playing the game outdoors.

She honed her interest in art and design with a career that took her from Israel to New York, Mexico and San Diego. She studied machine design and did mechanical drawing during military service, as well as studying art.

The giant chess set became reality while she was in Mexico. Some 10 years after she started, her chess pieces — which are all made by hand — are in hotels and private gardens around the U.S. and abroad, she says.

As far as she knows, Klein’s the only person in the U.S. making large chess sets.

“It’s not just for the game, it’s also like a sculpture,” she says.

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Brigid Gaffikin

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