The Why, How, and Where of Sculpture Parks

Storm King Art Center

Wikipedia
Storm King Art Center
The original immersive experience, sculpture parks and gardens continue to inspire, and allow the public to enjoy both works of art and outdoor public space.

The original immersive experience, sculpture parks and gardens continue to inspire, and allow the public to enjoy both works of art and outdoor public space.

Wikipedia

Joan of Arc

Beyond regular maintenance, refurbishing a sculpture park is challenging and often requires raising considerable amounts of money.

 

Sculpture parks are the original immersive experience. Merging an art encounter with the land engages all the senses. Along with our reactions to wind, rain, sun, and the smell of newly mowed grass, these parks also allow for the free flow of human interaction. The popularity of visiting outdoor art exhibitions has only increased during our recent pandemic-infused anxiety, while we tried to avoid close contact with strangers indoors. This increased traffic has taken its toll on the land and the artwork. How art conservators work with landscape designers, artists, and curators requires special skills and considerations that vary depending on the geography and cultural implications of the site.

There is a long international history of siting sculpture in outdoor settings that goes back centuries. The earliest evidence of three-dimensional art-making dates back 175,000 years ago with Neanderthals creating ring-like structures of stacked rocks in a cave, which were discovered in France in 1990. During the Renaissance, the Italian humanist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) declared that the gardens of country estates should include “…planters where vines can climb, placed on marble columns; vases and amusing statues, provided they are not obscene.” Sculpture integrated with the land evolved with the support of public and private partnerships between cultural institutions and public municipalities. Today Wikipedia lists over 370 sculpture parks worldwide. New York is home to at least 45 sculpture parks and gardens from Manhattan’s Socrates Sculpture Park founded in 1986 by sculptor Mark di Suvero, to Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York, one of the best-known and oldest parks of its kind.

Beyond regular maintenance, refurbishing a sculpture park is challenging and often requires raising considerable amounts of money. Brookgreen Gardens, a 9,100-acre property located in South Carolina’s low country encompasses a botanical garden, zoo, and one of the largest collections of American figurative sculpture in the world. Comprised of four former slave-holding rice plantations, the cultural and historical significance of the site has ramifications that extend beyond the aesthetics of the artwork on view. Brookgreen was founded by the noted American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) whose love of animals was manifested in her prowess in interpreting their form and movement in clay and ultimately in bronze and aluminum. In 1915, she created an equestrian sculpture of Joan of Arc the first public monument of a woman by a female artist erected in New York City.

She along with her wealthy industrialist husband Archer Milton Huntington purchased the historic property in 1929. Anna initially designed the gardens to accommodate her own sculpture and then expanded it to include some of the most significant figurative sculptors from the nineteenth century to the present. The elegantly stylized figure of Diana and a Hound (1924) by Paul Manship (1885-1966) is perfectly placed and a good example of what the park offers. Manship is best known for his sculpture Prometheus (1934) in Rockefeller Center, NYC.

Prometheus at Rockefeller Center
Wikipedia/David Shankbone

Prometheus at Rockefeller Center.

Diana
Wikipedia Commons
Storm King Art Center
Wikipedia Commons

Storm King Art Center

Forest Idyll
Wikipedia Commons

Forest Idyll

Red Note
Wikipedia Commons/David Stromeyer
Rhapsody in Blue
Wikipedia Commons/David Stromeyer

Rhapsody in Blue

Another sculpture park, Brookgreen Gardens, opened to the public in 1931. The Brookgreen founders were early environmentalists as interested in conserving the plants, animals, and salt marshes as they were in the sculptures on their property. Brookgreen Gardens was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and the sculpture garden portion, including over two thousand works by over four hundred artists displayed outdoors on 551 acres in several themed gardens, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1984. Brookgreen Gardens is in the midst of its first capital campaign in over 25 years to renovate its current facilitates and expand its educational programs.

Storm King Art Center, founded in 1960 in Upstate New York is one of the best-known and oldest parks of its kind. Works by important modernist sculptors like David Smith, Mark di Suvero, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and more recently Maya Lin, can be experienced on these expansive grounds. Eric Booker, Storm King’s recently appointed associate curator is working with director and chief curator Nora Lawrence to navigate a forty-five million dollar effort to completely reimagine and upgrade the parks sprawling five hundred acres. An international team including heneghan peng architects from Dublin, Ireland, New York-based WXY architecture + urban design, landscape architecture firms Gustafson Porter + Bowman of London, and Reed Hilderbrand of Cambridge, Massachusetts will be taking a holistic approach to landscape stewardship and environmental sustainability in their design plan.

Breaking ground in late 2022, the project is slated for completion in 2024. Not only will it consolidate parking and accessible amenities but it will also include the construction of the Art Center’s first dedicated conservation, fabrication, and maintenance building. Combined with new pathways, reconfigured wetlands, and the planting of over six hundred and fifty new trees, the land at Storm King will continue to be a supportive environment for the display of sculpture and the enjoyment of visitors for decades to come.

It is enlightening to discover how David Stromeyer and wife Sarah Stromeyer, converted a former dairy farm into a popular sculpture park with over seventy large scale works in painted steel and stone.

Given the physical, practical, and economic challenges faced by any sculptor in the making, storing, and exhibition of their work, the ideal solution would be the creation of their very own sculpture park. This is precisely the path chosen by Vermont sculptor David Stromeyer. In 2014, he opened Cold Hollow Sculpture Park, his own admission-free art experience on two hundred acres of rural farmland in Enosburg, Vermont. As an independent artist with a big vision, it is enlightening to discover how Stromeyer, along with his wife, a former dancer and now writer, Sarah Stromeyer, converted a former dairy farm located just ten miles from the Canadian border into a popular sculpture park with over seventy large scale works in painted steel and stone.

Their story began when they purchased the land in 1970. Stromeyer recalls, “the house we live in was a pig shed.” His self-determination and “can do” attitude earned the respect of the locals and his symbiotic relationship with a nearby farmer who mows the fields and six meadows around the sculpture helped turn a tremendous undertaking into a successful enterprise. Stromeyer sees an affinity between farmers and artists. “Both require a devotion and deep commitment to their work.” Now in their seventies, the Stromeyers are planning for the future. In 2018, Cold Hollow Sculpture Park became a non-profit. They hired staff, formed an advisory council, and even started an artist residency program. German artist and kite-maker Kisa Sauer was the Cold Hollow 2022 artist-in-residence. “When you fly a kite in a landscape, it does something to the landscape and the other way around,” Sauer said. Exploring this relationship between art and the land is the beating heart of all sculpture parks, including Cold Hollow. It is a relationship we can’t afford to lose.

About the Author

Cynthia Close

Cynthia Close holds a MFA from Boston University, was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.

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