By Jerry Williams, Volunteer Docent at Grounds For Sculpture
Volunteers at Grounds For Sculpture have a monthly educational meeting. Our guests at one meeting late last year were from The Sculpture Foundation, the force behind Sculpture On The Way. They used to produce a full color brochure on the artwork included in the program. When we asked when it would be updated to include the many additions since last publication, we were advised that it was not practical to keep updating the brochure because the artwork itself keeps changing. They suggested someone amongst us volunteers take up a similar project.
Well, the individual who asked the question coincidentally had the same name as me. So, I picked up the thrown gauntlet, grabbed my camera and hit the road. I’ve traversed these roads and seen these sculptures countless times, but I never gave a second thought to photographing them. I quickly discovered that a weekday afternoon was not going to work if I wanted to capture all of the pieces. So I shot a few and decided to come back on the next Saturday morning.
I headed north on I-295 and pulled to the shoulder across from Head 2 Head. There’s not much traffic on this road at about 8 a.m. on a Saturday, but there is still some. I quickly picked up my camera with a telephoto lens and shot off a group of pictures of the sculpture across six lanes of highway plus a grass median — this while cars whizzed by on both sides of the roadway.
Done there, I went further up the highway and turned around to come back to exit 65B from the north. As soon as you come off this exit, the first thing you see is Comprehension by Seward Johnson. It was this piece that drove home the realization that certain installations of public art are meant to be seen only in passing. I should have realized it after photographing Head 2 Head on a busy Interstate Highway, but it sunk in here. There is simply no place to stop safely and take some photos, even early on a Saturday morning.
Over the next hour or two I shot a bunch of photos. When I got home, I loaded them into my computer and printed out what I thought were the best ones of each piece. The following week, I met with Lynn DeClemente, the registrar for The Sculpture Foundation. I showed her what I shot and she identified those pieces I could not. She also pointed me to pieces I had missed, or didn’t know about, and let me know of a few pending additions. Without Lynn’s invaluable assistance and guidance, I would not have been able to complete this project.
So, the following Sunday, camera in hand along with a big cup of coffee, I once again headed out. The sculptures on and around the NJ Transit train station property were easy to capture on Sunday morning as it’s not a busy place then. Across the road is the Congoleum plant and I spent some time on their property shooting whatever I could of the surrounding art.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of all was trying to fully capture Crossing Paths by Seward Johnson. This monumental piece was not yet installed when I took on this project. It is sited to best be seen from the adjacent train track. Thus, from the road (East State Street Extension), all you can see is the back. Well, I was determined to shoot the piece from the front and knew the area pretty well. So I set out to go to the other side of the tracks and get a few good photos. The other side of the tracks is also industrial, including trucking firms and the like. As you can imagine, early Sunday does not bring much activity to light industrial areas so I was the lone car in the area. I drove up and down side streets across from the work but could not get a clear view of it. While I sipped my coffee I contemplated the risk versus reward of entering private property to get closer to the tracks. Wisdom won out and I drove back to the other side of the tracks and moved on to the other works.
The piece on Klockner Road by NottinghamHigh School (Long Forms by Mark Power) presented its own problems. Before doing my early weekend morning excursions, I drove by the high school a number of times before I could even distinguish the piece from the surrounding trees. I briefly thought of pulling over and taking a few shots but quickly stifled those thoughts. Imagine an older gentleman (me) driving up to a high school during school hours and sticking a camera with a telephoto lens out the window. Once again, wisdom won out and I decided to capture this on a weekend trip.
Tulip by Seymour Ikenson presented another problem. At the time I was doing this project (early 2012), the former Siperstein’s paint store was being demolished and a new Walgreen’s was replacing it. The construction site was fenced off and there was rubble surrounding the sculpture. Across the street is a Wawa in whose lot I sat, with another cup of coffee, pondering how I could capture the work without including all the construction detritus. Bottom line was that I couldn’t and the photo included in Episode V is taken from The Sculpture Foundation website.
This project made me realize that there are two types of public (actually there are probably more than that). One is sculpture that is intended to be enjoyed while passing by. These pieces are usually monumental and are not designed to be seen up close and personal. Most of the works in Sculpture On The Way fall into this category. They are placed in locations not convenient or safe for pedestrians. The other type is those that can and perhaps should be looked at up close and personal. First Ride and Daedalus come to mind as good examples of this type.
Sculpture On The Way is not stagnant. Since I undertook this project, Hitchhiker and Crossing Paths were added. Los Mariachis and Turn of the Century were moved to a new location and joined by Whispering Close and Time For Fun. The vacated location was filled with God Bless America. It is not beyond belief that before you read this final episode, yet another change will have taken place on Sculpture On The Way. Just as a breadcrumb path succumbs to changes from wind and animals, so too does Sculpture On The Way.
I hope you enjoyed this excursion as much as I did preparing it. The next time you go to Grounds For Sculpture, or to the NJ Transit train station, or have any reason to be in the area, perhaps you’ll look at this marvelous collection in a slightly different light. It was a pleasure chatting with you.