I’ve seen plenty of impressive pictures of the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park in the Southside, but they don’t do it justice. “Some Waves Spark Stone” by Roger Colombik stands 30 feet tall and reaches 30 feet across the field. The photograph on the Sculpture Fields website, sculpturefields.org, is impressive and interesting, but it’s rare that a picture can bowl one over the way seeing something up close and personal is able to do.
My mother and I chose the coldest day of 2017 to stroll through the Sculpture Fields, and even with our teeth chattering and the icy wind whipping up under our overcoats, we could barely leave this extraordinary spot. We stood transfixed at sculpture after sculpture, taking in the enormity, the power, the mechanics and the beauty of all of them.
“Some Waves Spark Stone” is an enormous Viking-like sculpture made of steel, bronze and aluminum, and a bare tree of sorts extends up from it. It’s not something you can just walk past without being awed. But it’s not the only piece that speaks to its viewer. I shivered for a good while in front of “In Harmony – Earth, Water, Fire Wind’ by Hanna Jubran. I stood for equally as long behind it, and beside it. You can’t see the texture of each column in a picture. The stainless steel shimmers and glows and seemingly moves, much like the elements of its namesake. In a photograph, it’s impossible to see the bronze details at the top of each of the four columns that subtly but clearly depict those elements. You’re probably familiar with Peter Lundberg’s “Anchors,” the 65-foot tall piece memorializing the fallen servicemen, four marines and one sailor, who were killed in Chattanooga on July 16, 2015. The working title for this powerful piece was “Five Anchors Strong,” and five anchors were placed within its concrete foundation. Mr. Lundberg, a professional sculpture from Middlebury, Vt,, said, “I think we need to come together to honor their lives and do something significant.” Indeed, you cannot look away from this piece. Go to peterlundberg.com to see the installation of this gigantic piece.
Another enormous piece, “Bette Davis Eyes,” was created by John Henry, a driving force behind the Sculpture Fields. Years ago, he had studios in Chicago and Miami and Kentucky, and wanted a place in the eastern part of the country. Friends with several folks who were involved in Chattanooga’s arts, Mr. Henry decided upon Chattanooga for home base. Internationally acclaimed, Mr. Henry’s work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Miami Art Museum, the Orlando Museum of Art and the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as dozens of others. Comprised of 300 tons of steel, “Bette Davis Eyes” exemplifies the subtle, yet powerful, geometrics for which Mr. Henry is famous.
A true visionary, Mr. Henry saw the 33 acres at Montague Park as the perfect spot for a sculpture garden. Ignoring the park’s overgrowth and environmental hazards, he was stricken by the vistas of Lookout Mountain rising in the distance behind his studio and the vastness of the wide open sky, both the perfect backdrop for sculpture. The city donated the use of the land, and Mr. Henry and architect Tom Bartoo created the walking path and laid out a plan for the sculptures.
My mother and I headed down Main Street, turned on Polk Street, parked our car and walked right through the entrance without paying a cent. But what we received in return was incredible. We meandered down the path, only expecting to see up close the handful of sculptures that were visible from the parking lot. But as we wound round berms and bends, we came upon piece after piece of sculpture, like little (or big, actually) surprises around each curve in the path. There are 40 of them so far, created by artists from all over the world.
“The impact these parks have on their communities is indisputable in terms of creating destinations for cultural tourism and augmenting educational resources. There is little doubt that Chattanooga – with its visionary leadership and widespread community cultural involvement – will benefit from a world-class international sculpture park,” according to sculpturefields.org.
Chattanooga may not be Chicago, or New York City, or any other city that boasts sculpture gardens, but we are the home of many generous visionaries, including Mr. Henry.
“The community, both the cultural community and community at large, has been so supportive. My studio backs up to the Sculpture Fields, and I can look out the window on the coldest day of the year and see people enjoying it.” I’m pretty sure he saw my mother and me.
The Sculpture Fields is at 1800 Polk St., off of Main Street. Go to sculpturefields.org for more information.
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Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series. “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.