When I moved to New Jersey, back in 1993, I heard for the first time this expression: “There are reasons why the Statue of Liberty turned her back on New Jersey.” Ouch!–and Hard! I decided rather than look for illustrations for the “Miss- Dis,” I would focus instead on why my new home state is called “The Garden State:” I could work with that. I really enjoy that the growing season is much longer here than in Buffalo, New York from where I came, and winters, for the most part, less severe. So far so good.
I’ve been here long enough now to have roots and have grown enough plants to prove that it is indeed a good place for a garden, even considering the heat of the past two weeks. I love that there are plenty of things to do very close at hand and one of these is Grounds for Sculpture and would call GFS one of my top favorite places to visit. I think I’ve been nearly a dozen times, a few of these for dining at Rat’s Restaurant located at the perimeter of the park. More on that at the end.
What I’ve learned is that GFS was opened right before I landed in New Jersey–1992–a garden on 42 acres in Hamilton, New Jersey. If you’ve every taken the New Jersey Transit train to New York City, you’ve already seen a few sculptures nearby to get you warmed up–a big molar right as you exit from I-295 and as you approach the park, a sculpture on a sidewalk of a child learning to ride a bike, Father just having let go. Super cute.
The sculptures really are integrated to the garden/grounds, each support the other, often in a playful and curious way.s I think this connection is best expressed by sculptor and founder of the gardens, Seward Johnson, when he describes the vision of GFS: ” To create a place to make contemporary sculpture more accessible to greater numbers of people from all backgrounds; to offer them the opportunity to develop privately, step-by-step, a more intimate relationship with contemporary art; to share that experience with others in a familiar, accessible, informal setting in nature–giving them the chance, as Picasso said, to wash away ‘from the soul the dust of everyday life.'” Some of the sculptures are inspired by famous works of art, such as Seward Johnson’s own “Dejeuner Deja Vu.” Visitors can climb right into the scene with the sculpture. One year, we attended a Halloween Costume Night and since parts of the garden were still open, we were able to take some fun photos, we dressed as a magician and assistant with the Manet figures. Also offered are classes, workshops and lectures. In May, we heard Deepak Chopra speak–that was a treat.
From a garden design point of view, the grounds illustrate how to incorporate art into the garden and landscape without one having more to say than the other. You will notice how the bronze and the stone compliment each other, each looking better for the adjacency; how the soft lines of the plants support the more fixed forms of the sculpture –yet the sculpture can still look beautiful with bare plants behind, as in the winter. Also worth noting is how the curves of the sculptures are often mirrored in the plants–the arch of a blade of ornamental grass, or the way the wind will move the leaves of the plant in a way that the sculpture twists and turns.
Rat’s Restaurant is worth the drive just for it; we’ve been for Valentine’s Day Brunch a few times and for several of their special dining events: Cuban Night, New Jersey Beer Tasting with special menu to name two. If you’re lucky when you go and the weather is accommodating, you can ask to sit on the terrace near the large pond where the sculpture “Leucantha” resides. Once when we did, a mama duck and a few of her ducklings walked out of the low grasses that border the water and strutted right by, all in a row.
I’m sure you’ll be planning outings for the fall; consider adding this to the list. For more information about Grounds for Sculpture, click here.