My girlfriend Pat, a fellow Master Gardener and one of my best friends, is moving after many years of living in New Jersey. To extend our fun and bank a bunch of new memories, we decided to visit as many “local” N.J. gardens as possible together before the huge moving truck backs up to her home and takes her on a new adventure. The High Line in New York City was our first stop. And our next? The Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. Located on the site of the former N.J. State Fairgrounds, the Grounds for Sculpture is a “fool your eye” kind of place. It’s an outdoor art museum of the most fun kind!
With art works, mostly sculptures, sprinkled generously around the 42-acre park, we saw something around every bend in the path and behind the shrubbery. My brain kept processing these sculptured figures as real people, mostly engaged in everyday pursuits. I kept thinking that I was intruding! It was the weirdest feeling! Then I found out that what I was experiencing is exactly what founder and sculptor Seward Johnson wanted me to feel: “I want my work to disappear into the landscape and then take a viewer by surprise,” Johnson said in a 2002 interview with The New York Times. “After he gets over the shock of being fooled, it becomes an emotional discovery. Then he owns the sculpture. People often revisit their favorites. They become like friends.”
Grounds for Sculpture just opened a new exhibit “Seward Johnson: The Retrospective” that will run through September 2014. Can I tell you? You NEED to visit Grounds for Sculpture and see what it’s all about. One of the figures that is part of Johnson’s Icons Revisited series blew me away: Forever Marilyn. I’m a fan of Marilyn Monroe; I’ve seen all her movies (Some Like It Hot is a personal favorite) and I’ve read every biography ever written about her. I’m weird like that, I guess. Anyway, I could have stood and admired, sat and admired, even laid on the grass and admired Marilyn — all 26 feet tall of her — in her billowing white halter dress and sling backs with red painted toenails. Pat? Not so much. While I admired Marilyn, Pat admired a(n admittedly) magnificent line of trees.
But back to the sculptures and artistic installations. I adore the life-sized recreation of Monet’s bridge, complete with water lilies in the pond. I danced around an imaginary maypole with child-like abandon. I sneaked a peek into the slit in a metallic horse’s butt and found a lovely surprise. Hey! It wasn’t as weird as that sounds, okay! And? Pat and I played what I called a jungle gym-sized xylophone. We were having so much fun banging out our own tunes (yeah, I don’t play any instrument, let alone play one well) that we attracted a toddler, who asked us if he could play too. And we said yes, of course!
Perfect day, perfect memories created with a wonderful friend.
The park is easy to navigate and has a terrific restaurant (The Rat) on site. It was Pat’s third visit to Grounds for Sculpture, but she assured me that you could visit a hundred times and still discover something new. You know what? I think Pat is right!