It’s always important to keep an open mind when visiting a museum, but Grounds for Sculpture takes it to a whole new level. The sculpture garden located near Trenton, New Jersey, beckons you to look closer and expect the unexpected. The couple cuddling in the grass? A sculpture. The gigantic pumpkins? Sculptures. The vibrant peacock? Well, no that’s an actual peacock strutting around and calling out.
Grounds for Sculpture is a great blend of something for everyone. There are dozens of impressive works that you’ll marvel at and wonder how they were even constructed. And there are plenty of kitschy social media photo opportunities that will thrill and engage visitors of all ages.
All About the New Jersey Sculpture Garden
So just how did a New Jersey sculpture garden come to exist? The Grounds for Sculpture opened in 1992. The museum is the brainchild of artist Seward Johnson. The grounds were once used as the Trenton Speedway and the New Jersey State Fairgrounds.
The current collection contains more than 100 works. And there are, of course, always rotating exhibitions. Knowing the museum’s background it’s unsurprising that Johnson is perhaps one of the most represented artists in the collection.
Nearby is the Johnson Atelier. You can peek through the fence that divides the atelier from the sculpture garden for a peek at additional works being stored or getting some loving rejuvenation.
Experiencing Grounds for Sculpture
Even before you actually enter the sculpture garden, the sculptures come to you. The streets of Hamilton seem to be dotted with pieces. It gives you a hint of what is to come and it is a tasty appetizer!
No matter what time of year or time of day that you visit this New Jersey sculpture garden, there is something special to see and experience. In your run-of-the-mill art museum, the lighting and surroundings are carefully curated. At Grounds for Sculpture, Mother Nature has the final say. Be that a setting sun, bare tree branches, a gentle wind, or some drops of rain. It changes the way you see the gardens and these works of art.
But regardless of the time of year that you visit, Grounds for Sculpture is truly an adventure. The meandering paths take you on an adventure around the 42-acres. You cross bridges, you take narrow tree-lined pathways, and climb hills.
As you pass the bamboo groves, stop and listen as the wind turns the green plants into chimes. The gardens are an integral part of the sculpture garden. During my visit in early spring, the plants were still struggling to awaken from their winter hibernation. And those cries you’ll hear? That’s the resident peacock, strutting his stuff.
The Sculptures on Display
The sculptures on display fall into one of two categories: the work is either by Seward Johnson or not. The works not by Johnson tend to be more serious. Many are impressively constructed, combining different types of metal or stone or seeming precariously balanced. The works are large and leave an impression. And as you get a new perspective as you observe them from 360-degree.
Some, like George Segal’s “Depression Breadline” you are likely already familiar with from its installation as part of the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Others evoke Alexander Calder, with their scale and combination of geometric shapes.
The works by Johnson, on the other hand, contain a more obvious sense of humor. With “God Bless America,” he brings Grant Wood’s iconic “American Gothic” portrait to life in a larger-than-life way. And “Has Anyone See Larry? (The Three Fates)” sees three spooky-looking creatures conspiring while a (literally) smoking caldron appears to hold the remains of what one can only assume to be poor Larry. The works offer a drama and a fresh take on familiar scenes. They’re fun and gold for those social media addicts.
While I initially assumed Johnson’s works to be fiberglass, they’re actually cast bronze that is painted. My favorite was probably a strikingly lifelike trio hidden behind some holly bushes and deeply entrenched on a game of poker. There’s even an open folding chair where the viewer can take a seat and get in on the action.
Located in Hamilton, New Jersey, with US Route 1 to the west and Interstate 295 to the east, Grounds for Sculpture can be easily reached by car. And, perhaps the best part, the museum has plenty of free parking on site.
If you plan to take public transit, NJ Transit has a bus route (608 to Hamilton) that stops at the corner of Nottingham Way at Sculptor’s Way.
All photos, as well as opinions, are my own.