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7 beautiful sculpture parks in the Midwest and South you have to visit

Sculpture parks like the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Little Rock, Arkansas, beckon people to the great outdoors to appreciate art. | Photo by Scott Whiteley Carter Sculpture parks like the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Little Rock, Arkansas, beckon people to the great outdoors to appreciate art. | Photo by Scott Whiteley Carter

Environmentally controlled and purposely devoid of distractions, museum galleries provide the ideal setting to focus on art. But as spring weather entices us outside, you don’t have to choose between art and nature.

The Midwest and South are home to an array of engaging outdoor sculpture parks where the environment and distractions enhance the art experience. In these museums without walls, the sun can warm your face as you gaze upon a bronze obelisk rising out of a pond, or you can feel a breeze while exploring a meadow populated by a 20-foot-long fiberglass deer. Whether you hike amid woods or stroll through a city garden, these sculpture parks offer an enchanting combination of outdoor and man-made beauty.

1. The Art Garden at Wichita Art Museum

Wichita, Kansas. (316) 268-4921; wichitaartmuseum.org.

Artist Isaac Witkin’s brushed steel “Yantra,” in the foreground, is one of 13 fascinating sculptures that surround the Wichita Art Museum. | Photo courtesy Wichita Art Museum

Artist Isaac Witkin’s brushed steel “Yantra,” in the foreground, is one of 13 fascinating sculptures that surround the Wichita Art Museum. | Photo courtesy Wichita Art Museum

Not far from a massive Dale Chihuly chandelier inside the Wichita Art Museum, visitors can see an enormous Henry Moore cast-bronze sculpture through tall windows inviting them outside. Moore’s Working Model for Three Piece No. 3: Vertebrae is one of 13 compelling sculptures found amid the natural beauty of the Art Garden that surrounds the museum.

Opened in 2015, the garden on the 8-acre museum campus along the Little Arkansas River welcomes guests with extensive landscaping, including more than 28,000 indigenous plants and trees. Among the works decorating the landscape are Stanley Boxer’s Three Part Marble White, which exudes a Zen-like quality. After dark, the 119 aluminum light poles in Derek Porter’s 200-foot-long Pulse Field create a magical glow.

2. Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park

Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, Mount Vernon, Illinois. (618) 242-1236; cedarhurst.org.

A draft horse sculpted from old car bumpers, John Kearney’s “Kimball” is a symbol of the strength and courage of the early settlers of Illinois. | Photo courtesy Cedarhurst Center for the Arts

A draft horse sculpted from old car bumpers, John Kearney’s “Kimball” is a symbol of the strength and courage of the early settlers of Illinois. | Photo courtesy Cedarhurst Center for the Arts

Cedarhurst Center for the Arts commissioned its first sculpture here nearly 40 years ago. The cement structure Cedarhurst One by Robert Youngman honors southern Illinois’ landscape and marks the entrance to the Mitchell Museum, Shrode Art Center, and the sculpture park on the campus.

John Kearney’s horse Kimball, crafted from obsolete car bumpers, has become the park’s most iconic work since its addition in 1994. Additional pieces in the 80-acre park incorporate steel, such as Fletcher Benton’s bright blue Folded Square Alphabet Q, while concrete takes center stage in 36 statues that comprise CJ McCarrick’s Women Gathering. In all, 73 sculptures showcase the creative genius of local and international artists.

3. Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum

Solsberry, Indiana. (502) 554-1788; sculpturetrails.com.

Jack Gron’s “Sculpture Trails Gateway” is one of dozens of artworks that visitors encounter on 3 miles of forest trails. | Photo by Hugh Patton/Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum

Jack Gron’s “Sculpture Trails Gateway” is one of dozens of artworks that visitors encounter on 3 miles of forest trails. | Photo by Hugh Patton/Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum

With its own foundry, Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum has offered workshops on blacksmithing, cast-iron sculpting, and other metal arts since 2002. Artists who create works in those sessions are invited to display their creations in the surrounding woods, which functions as a giant outdoor gallery space.

Three miles of gorgeous hiking trails showcase upward of 100 large-scale cast-iron and steel sculptures. The deep-red surface of Clifton Cox’s steel Stealth strongly contrasts with the colors of surrounding trees. Jack Gron’s multi-panel cast-iron archway, Sculpture Trails Gateway, incorporates donated objects, while Samantha Sullivan’s cast-iron Lightheaded resembles a sci-fi creature and includes a solar light.

4. Laumeier Sculpture Park

Sunset Hills, Missouri. (314) 615-5278; laumeiersculpturepark.org.

Salvaged oil tanks make up Alexander Liberman’s “The Way,” an iconic sculpture that was a gift of Alvin J. Siteman with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. | Photo courtesy Laumeier Sculpture Park

Salvaged oil tanks make up Alexander Liberman’s “The Way,” an iconic sculpture that was a gift of Alvin J. Siteman with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. | Photo courtesy Laumeier Sculpture Park

Founded in 1976, this landmark sprawls over 105 acres about 20 minutes southwest of downtown St. Louis. This free park provides walking paths and trails that bring visitors near more than 70 outdoor sculptures crafted from a host of materials, including wood, metal, brick, stone, stained glass, and mirrors. For an easy hike, choose the three-quarter-mile Art Hike Trail through Laumeier’s Eastern Woodland area.

In Alexander Liberman’s powerful The Way, 18 salvaged oil tanks project in all directions like the guns of a giant battleship. Tony Tasset’s 12-foot-tall fiberglass Deer looks real from a distance, while Beverly Pepper’s Cromlech Glen combines dirt, sod, sand, and trees to form an intriguing earthen amphitheater. The Aronson Fine Arts Center on-site presents rotating exhibits.

5. Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden

Little Rock, Arkansas. (501) 517-1518; rivermarket.info.

Visitors to the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden will happen upon “Boris,” a bronze French bulldog by Daniel Glaz, among the park’s 90 sculptures. | Photo courtesy Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

Visitors to the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden will happen upon “Boris,” a bronze French bulldog by Daniel Glaz, among the park’s 90 sculptures. | Photo courtesy Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

Along the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock, the array of artworks here ranges from small to enormous, and whimsical to thought-provoking. Walking along natural terraces and paved paths, visitors notice a bronze French bulldog by Daniel Glaz that’s a nod to the park’s origins. Dean Kumpuris, a member of the Little Rock Board of Directors and a champion of outdoor art in the city, used to walk his bulldog, Boris, through the park.

Created in 2009, the garden built upon efforts initiated by Sculpture at the River Market two years earlier. The Vogel Schwartz Foundation helped establish the garden near the market and provided additional funding for a 2017 expansion. More than 90 sculptures are arrayed in “rooms” delineated by landscape architecture. Among them is Jane DeDecker’s Shortcut, which depicts children playfully crossing a log.

6. Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

 New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans. (504) 658-4100; noma.org.

Ugo Rondinone’s monumental sculpture, “The Sun,” is among the celebrated works around the New Orleans Museum of Art within New Orleans City Park. | Photo courtesy New Orleans Museum of Art

Ugo Rondinone’s monumental sculpture, “The Sun,” is among the celebrated works around the New Orleans Museum of Art within New Orleans City Park. | Photo courtesy New Orleans Museum of Art

This garden took shape over 5 acres amid the pines, live oaks, and magnolia trees of New Orleans City Park in 2003. The garden more than doubled in size with a 2019 expansion and displays more than 90 sculptures, most of which were donated by founders Sydney and Walda Besthoff. Works are situated in open lawns and under tree canopies connected by walkways and pedestrian bridges over two lagoons.

Visitors can look through Ugo Rondinone’s The Sun, an enormous circle of bronze, stainless steel, and gold leaf to see Frank Stella’s Alu Truss Star, a three-dimensional milled aluminum star on the opposite side of a lagoon. Other displays include works by celebrated artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, George Segal, George Rodrigue, Coosje van Bruggen, and Claes Oldenburg.

7. Hurricane Katrina Tree Sculptures

Coastal Mississippi between Bay St. Louis and Biloxi. gulfcoast.org.

Artists transformed oak and cypress trees that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi Gulf Coast into beautiful works of art. | Photo courtesy Coastal Mississippi

Artists transformed oak and cypress trees that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi Gulf Coast into beautiful works of art. | Photo courtesy Coastal Mississippi

After Hurricane Katrina devastated oak and cypress trees along Coastal Mississippi’s Highway 90, gifted artists transformed the remains into one-of-a-kind sculptures. Nearly 50 of these woody wonders complement the calm surf along the coast. They include sculpted shorebirds, fish, and dolphins that perch atop revitalized trees.

They are the work of Mississippi chain saw artist Dayton Scoggins and Florida wood sculptor Marlin Miller, whose 17-foot-tall eagle stands guard over Pass Christian’s War Memorial Park. Indiana chain saw artist Dayle Lewis sculpted intricate angels in the Bay St. Louis area that convey serenity. Among them is the Demontluzin Avenue Angel, which was carved into a tree that three Katrina survivors clung to during the storm.

Contributor Lisa Waterman Gray from Overland Park, Kansas, is a fan of outdoor art.

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