For anyone who has ever dreamed of stepping into a painting, visiting Giverny without traveling to France, or seeing the amazing mix of art and nature, we have the place for you. Grounds for Sculpture, created by artist Seward Johnson (aka John Seward Johnson II), is a beautiful sculpture park that showcases the transformative experience of seeing art in nature. Not only is it a sculpture park, but it also serves as a garden + arboretum as well as a museum. We took a trip to this sculpture garden in New Jersey to explore its history and culture – as well as appreciate the beautiful art. Read on to learn more about this dynamic and fun sculpture park, located at 80 Sculptors Way in Hamilton, New Jersey.
About the Founder
Seward Johnson was born into the Johnson & Johnson family heritage (his grandfather was the co-founder) on April 16, 1930. But instead of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, Seward made the bold choice to follow a passion for art. He started painting in the 1960s but didn’t move on to sculpture until 1968, which better suited his desire to immerse himself in a 3-dimensional artistic experience. Later, in 1974, he established the Johnson Atelier, a sculpting school and foundry in Hamilton, NJ.
Seward’s most notable sculptures included awakening (1980), a 70-foot statue broken into five pieces depicting a giant trying to dig itself out of the ground. What Seward was best known for, however, was his realistic human sculptures that were strategically placed to blend into their daily surroundings.
Hitchhiker (1983) is at the California Avenue gate of Hofstra University, located on Long Island. allow me (1983) is a tanned man holding his umbrella in Portland, Oregon. his piece, Recheck (1982), depicts a businessman seated and rummaging through his briefcase. After the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, this sculpture has become an iconic image of the tragedy. Covered in debris from the collapsed towers and one of the few surviving works of art, Recheck was so realistic that New York firefighters tried to save it.
In 2005, Seward Johnson told the New York Times, “When he survived, it was if he was one of them – survivor too.” In 2006 the sculpture was moved to Zuccotti Park, where you can still see it today. Many small works of public art by Seward have endured and are located throughout the country, hoping to surprise you into thinking they are real.
Read more: Hudson County Artists to Know and Collect
History of carving patterns
In 1984, Seward Johnson dreamed of creating a public sculpture garden near Hamilton, NJ, near his foundry and studio. It aimed to make contemporary sculpture accessible to everyone, using the studio as a place where sculptors and students could create and display their work. In 1989, the cornerstone of the Sculpture Park at the Old New Jersey State Fairgrounds was laid. In 1992, the sculpture park opened. Today, the sculpture park exhibits over 300 pieces, including pieces by renowned sculptors from around the world.
The park today
Grounds For Sculpture is a unique outdoor space to visit. First, the 42-acre property is a sculpture park showcasing spectacular modern art. Second, it’s a garden and an arboretum – and good ones besides. Third, it’s a museum with changing exhibits and accessible art, considered a top cultural destination in New Jersey.
The first impression when visiting the garden is impressive. A couple of giant dancers stand in impressionistic glory just outside the visitor center. It’s striking, at the same time that you feel welcome and rather cheerful about your next visit. This is how the Grounds For Sculpture attracts visitors, featuring giant statues around the parking lot that beckon people into the rest of the park. Seward wanted the park to do just that: take viewers on a grand promenade and then get lost among the sculptures and greenery. He was intentional about the curving network of varied pathways so that it was always unclear which monumental sculpture would appear around the corner.
Here and there, Seward’s great sense of humor is evident – a bronze superhero scaling a building, sculpted children balancing on the edge of a roof, or a fiberglass snake emerging from water lilies. The gardens are fun, unassuming and a great place to visit for people aged 1-100. One of the best parts of a visit is the wide variety of people. From strangers of all kinds to children, families, school groups and seniors, the Grounds For Sculpture has something for everyone.
The grounds feature modern and more sophisticated art carvings. Think lush lawns and subtly bushy mounds with stainless steel monuments. But there are also sculptures that are meant to be fun – three witches bubbling in a cauldron of bones, a picnic with a naked woman, and countless fake painters with their easels, admiring the view. There is a great combination of world-class sculptures, works by Seward Johnson and emerging local artists who are just breaking into the art world.
One of the highlights of the garden is its immersive copy of Giverny, Monet’s famous house and gardens in France. This park is a calming treasure with a replica of a weathered bridge, cascading willow branches and clumps of blooming water lilies. From the terrace of the Rat’s restaurant, named after the wooded enclave where it is located, you can live inside a French painting without ever leaving the country.
Gravelled and shaded paths make the walk in the park all the more pleasant. There are also beautiful walkways and walkways lined with trees and foliage. Even in the intense summer heat, the park has misting areas that add to the atmosphere and intrigue of specific sculptures. If indoor artwork is more your style, stop by one of the former State Fair buildings, framed in original state-commissioned tiles. Additionally, there are six galleries with rotating art exhibits located on-site. There is always something to see at the park with many events, workshops, tours and concerts.
Seward Johnson died aged 89 in 2020, but he was still passionate about creating and supporting art until his final days. A visit to his sculpture garden is like a visit with him, his inspiration, his sense of humor and his passion for public accessibility to the highest forms of art. The Grounds For Sculpture encourages interaction and the immersion of art in nature, making it a truly unique place to visit and explore.
See more: A list of fun outdoor activities in New Jersey
Carving Patterns | 80 Sculptor’s Road, Hamilton
The Grounds For Sculpture is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The park requires advance online reservations. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, military and healthcare workers, and $10 for students. Children 5 and under are free. Sign up for ticket discounts and benefits. The site also has two restaurants and a museum shop. Please respect the gardens and practice proper etiquette to keep the park intact for future generations.