Art in the outdoors – fresh air, green grass, blossoming trees, sculptures of people, horses, birds, family medallions, mythical gods and goddesses, and an endless array of imaginative creatures await you. Where?
This article highlights three outdoor art gardens I recently explored: Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, (USA Today listed it as the number three art garden in the US,); Benson Park Sculpture Garden in Loveland, Colorado (TripAdvisor gave it four and a half stars); and the Montmartre cemetery in Paris, France (Flying High Solo gave it five stars).
Please add your favorite outdoor art gardens – or cemeteries – in the comments section below. (I include cemeteries because many monuments are works of art.) Share your treasured art gardens with us.
Located in Murrell’s Inlet, SC, Brookgreen Gardens is a surprise (at least it was to me). Brookgreen houses more than 1400 sculptures, with close to 400 on public view at any one time. In addition to the USA Today praise, TripAdvisor rated it among the top 10 public gardens in the U. S., according to Helen Benso, Vice-President of Marketing. Not only is the collection itself large with more than 1,400 works, many of the sculptures themselves are huge. They would seem at home in a European city or adorning the front of civic building in a major US city.
Brookgreen opened to the public in 1932. And according to Benso, Brookgreen changes some of the pieces on display periodically, moving some to storage and others to the public viewing area. Many of the smaller pieces rotate through the indoor gallery. Brookgreen continually adds to its collection, features American sculptors only, and highlights female artists.
The largest sculpture in the garden was designed by Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966), an important American female artist. Her 15-foot high Pegasus, (see photo above) carved in place by E. H. Ratti in white granite, was completed in 1953 after five years of work. Pegasus, was commissioned specifically for Brookgreen Gardens. One of Fraser’s other claims to fame, I found, is that she was the first woman to design a U.S. coin, the Alabama Centennial half-dollar in 1921. Her work is also in the Smithsonian Collection. That piece is a medal she designed in 1930.
In addition to granite, materials include bronze, marble, and cast aluminum. More than 350 artists are represented including Frederick Remington, Paul Manship, Richard McDermott Miller, Daniel Chester French, Anna Hyatt Huntington, and Carl Milles whose Fountain of the Muses presents muses dancing in a special pool of water in an arbor “room.” You come upon it – as you do many of the other pieces – at the end of a path. Surprise – it’s like a gift.
Brookgreen also has a lovely labyrinth, a small zoo, and a boat ride on a tributary of the Waccamaw River. The entire property, which used to be four rice plantations, covers about 9,100 acres. Not all are developed and open to the public.
Brookgreen Gardens, about 30 minutes south of Myrtle Beach and less than two hours north of Charleston, is open all year round and is certainly worth the trip. There’s an entrance fee (adults, $14) that you will find is good for two days. It’s almost as if the powers that be know you’ll be impressed and want to return for another visit.
Benson Park Sculpture Garden
Across the country in downtown Loveland, Colorado, about an hour north of Denver, Benson Park shows that Colorado is about more than just skiing and mountain biking. The 10-acre art garden has been displaying sculptures since 1985 and currently features 136 sculptures by world-renowned artists. Most of the works are somewhat smaller in scale compared to Brookgreen Gardens, but they’re not small in impact. Most are clever and contemporary. And many are bigger than life. Viewing the collection takes a pleasant hour or so.
The Park also hosts an annual outdoor juried show.
The show is more than a walk in the park. The exhibition usually features about 2,000 works by 170 three-dimensional sculptors. You can see the artists’ names listed on the show website. There’s also an online gallery and store, and judging from the high quality and high prices, this art garden takes art very seriously. For this outdoor art venue, admission is free, however, there’s a $ 7 admission fee to the show.
The Montmartre Cemetery, Paris
Not all outdoor art resides in art gardens. Many cemeteries have beautiful monuments that qualify as art. Paris has at least 14 major cemeteries, renowned not only for the fame of those buried there, but also for the artistry of the monuments.
I had the pleasure of staying with a friend who has an apartment near the Cemetery. So everyday on my way to the Metro, I looked down from the bridge and saw mysterious and beautiful monuments. And some magnificent sculptures. Turns out the Montmartre Cemetery opened in 1825, covers about 25 acres, and is the final resting place for many important artists, musicians, and writers, among others. You can happen upon monuments for Edgar Degas, Hector Berloiz, and Stendahl and feel a sense of awe (at least I did).
Built in the hollow of an old quarry and below street level, the terrain is quite rough and uneven, but that’s part of the charm. You’re in a place that doesn’t cater to the living, but is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the dead. And you feel the power of that solitude.
Of course, there are many art museums in Paris. Much of the time, however, the lines are long and the price of admission steep. So if you go to Paris, or any major European city, I suspect you can find wonderful sculptures in cemeteries, where the art is personal and celebrates the lives of real people.
(Note: I first became enamored with the art of cemeteries when on a project in Lviv, Ukraine. In the middle of a meeting, three gentlemen came in, our translator told us the meeting was over and to follow them. We were led to a beautiful cemetery, with magnificent monuments. We had a brief paranoid thought (it was the 1990s – and not understanding the language sometimes leads to dark misinterpretations) … was this a hint about where we would end up if the project didn’t go their way? False alarm – we resumed the meeting after our art walk.)
Conclusion? Art and beauty can be found both indoors and out. And walking among sculptures is a lovely way to spend a spring afternoon.
Share your special art gardens in the comments section.
Story and photos (except where noted) by Bojinka Bishop, April 15, 2013.
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