Sculpture takes root in Ferguson park

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FERGUSON • In late afternoon, sunlight dapples the green hillsides, tall old-growth oak trees and peaceful creek that winds through Jeske Park, making it a picture of natural beauty.


But this season, something new is sprouting in the seven-acre park: art.


The city and a nonprofit group this weekend are cutting the ribbon on Jeske Sculpture Park.


Around the green meadows and woods now are 10 artworks, two by local sculptors and others by artists from across the United States. The sculptors transported the works, some as tall as 15 feet and weighing nearly 1,500 pounds, and the pieces were installed last week. They’ll be on loan for two years.


“It’s the perfect setting for a sculpture park,” said Ferguson resident Bryce Olen Robinson, the sculptor and academic who dreamed up the idea.


Robinson has taught locally and now runs the wood and metal sculpture shop at the University of Notre Dame. He splits his time between his home in the Jeske Park neighborhood and the university’s home in Indiana.


The park was made possible by a public-private partnership.


“It’s something unique that we want to provide Ferguson residents that you don’t find in every community,” Mayor James Knowles III said. “I hope this is a catalyst for more art in Ferguson.”


He’d like to see a public sculpture program developed in the downtown district.


Knowles, who grew up nearby, said, “I’ve always had an affinity for this park.”


Robinson, who played in the park as a child, first broached the idea of adding sculpture with his neighborhood association in 2012. He said the community, city officials and the Northern Arts Council were enthusiastic from the start.


The city provides the park space and pays for upkeep. Friends of Jeske Sculpture Garden raised money — including from the Lions Club — and paid honorariums to five artists. The remainder of the sculptors, including Robinson, are sharing their works without charge.


A neighbor, Tanya Fite, brought two of her children, ages 6 and 8, to play in the park and walk the family dog one afternoon last week.


A little girl shinnied up a red sculpture.

“This is the first time we get to see all of them,” Fite said. “I think it adds a lot to the park.”


A stroll through the park finds whimsical sculptures, such as a glazed ceramic piece called “Antenna 1” by Edwardsville sculptor Snail Scott, as well as more serious ones.


Matthew Wicker’s “My Own Private Birmingham” pays homage to Sloss Furnaces, a defunct iron foundry in Birmingham, Ala. Sloss has become a mecca for iron sculptors. Wicker, of Holley, N.Y., included in the piece a pair of work gloves, which are cast in iron.


Wicker is married to sculptor Elizabeth Kronfield, who created another work, “Empty Baskets,” which features three large cast iron baskets, each resting on rustic wood timbers.


Robinson created three of the sculptures. One, “Makers & Takers,” is made of steel, bright yellow punch cards, enamel and wood. A second is “Hometown Hive,” layers of steel rings welded into patterns. The patterns look different at every angle.


His other work is a cast iron manhole cover that Robinson transformed into art with a logo he designed. His Jeske Sculpture Park logo shows three old-fashioned street lamps, with raised lettering of the park’s name and the ZIP code. The park is at 2111 Thoroughman Avenue.



Meanwhile, sculpture is also attracting admirers at a new park at Gore Avenue and Kirkham Road in Webster Groves. The park that opened last month sits on a wedge of land with bright yellow flowers and other landscaping along a winding path.


One piece there is by the late Ernest Trova, creator of the “Falling Man” series, on loan from Laumeier Sculpture Park.


Local artists Catharine Magel and Carol Fleming are featured, along with Evan Lewis of Chicago.


Fleming, a John Burroughs School graduate, created “Beginnings” — three eggs which she hopes evoke a “‘feeling of hope, new life.”


Magel’s “Inflorescence” is a “fantastical hybrid” of a bird and a flower and is about “our connection to nature,” Magel said.


“The flower is a metaphor for opening up and absorbing the sunlight, and for us, it’s for opening up to the light and what our potential is. The bird’s tail is also blooming and turning into a flower and inspires imagination and play. When kids sit in the flower, it looks like they’re blooming,” Magel said.


This garden also is public-private partnership, with some funding from the Webster Groves Public Art Fund.


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