Public art is valuable in a community, and in Arkansas, there are several places where people can find outdoor displays and enjoy them at no cost. Sculpture gardens are one of the ways art is made available to the masses. The trails at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, the Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail and Garvan Woodland Gardens all provide public art to their communities, and each came about in their own interesting way.

 

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

 

Established in Bentonville by Alice Walton in collaboration with many American curators and artists, Crystal Bridges is known for making great art accessible to the public. This effort has extended past the walls of the museum and into the natural landscape of the grounds, which add up to 130 acres in total.

 

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Redstick by Deborah Butterfield. (Photo by Stephen Ironside/ Ironside Photography)

 

There are currently 33 sculptures on view at Crystal Bridges, a few of which are on loan while most are part of the museum’s permanent collection. As with all the pieces in Crystal Bridges, placement was very intentional and done in a way meant to lead people through the grounds.

 

“I know that initially, when the museum was opened, Alice Walton had a lot to do with where the sculptures would be placed,” said Samantha Best, Crystal Bridges’ outdoor interpretation specialist. Subsequent placement is a collaborative effort between trails and grounds and curatorial teams, she said.

 

Buckeyball by Leo Villareal. (Photo by Stephen Ironside/ Ironside Photography).

 

Trails are open from sunrise to sunset during museum hours. There are eight trails on campus, with North Lawn Trail and Rock Ledge Trail currently closed due to the expansion of the museum.

 

In 2022, Crystal Bridges had two outdoor exhibitions on display. The North Forest Trail housed “Listening Forest” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at night from Aug. 31 to Jan. 1, 2023, and Orchard Trail featured “Architecture at Home” from July 9 to Jan. 1, 2023. “Listening Forest” provided the public with an immersive lights experience, involving all of the senses. “Architecture at Home” was the first outdoor architecture display at Crystal Bridges and is meant to spark conversations about contemporary housing.

 

Turquoise Reeds and Ozark Fiori by Dale Chihuly. (Photo by Stephen Ironside/ Ironside Photography).

 

“There is something in our outdoor space for everyone,” Best said. “I think that Crystal Bridges is a really amazing place to come and just enjoy being outside. If all you wanted to do was walk in a beautiful place, you can do that. If you want to have a picnic, you can do that. If you want to know more about housing, you can look at our outdoor exhibition. There are so many different opportunities to use the outdoor space; it’s a really unique destination.”

 

Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden

 

Little Rock has received numerous sculptures over the past couple of decades, thanks to collaborations between the city, businesses, artists and the public. Dr. Dean Kumpuris played a major role in making this possible for the city.

 

Kumpuris is a practicing gastroenterologist in Little Rock and has served on the Little Rock Board of Directors for more than 20 years. Kumpuris first became interested in sculpture gardens during a trip to Loveland, Colorado, where he was introduced to Benson Sculpture Garden.

 

Sculpture Gardens

Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. Breaking The Cycle by Kevin Kresse. (Photo by DeWaine Duncan/ AY Media Group).

 

“I talked to Dorsey and Lucy Jackson, who were familiar with the garden in Loveland, and we all thought that we could maybe do something similar in Little Rock,” Kumpuris said. “We got with Jane Rogers and proposed that we have a sculpture show in Little Rock, and then we held the first show in the pavilions behind the River Market”

 

The first sculpture show in Little Rock included several pieces from the National Sculptors’ Guild. According to Kumpuris, the first show contained sculptures from multiple sculptors, some local to Arkansas. In its inaugural show, there were several pieces sold.

 

“We liked the turnout and what we saw at that first sculpture show and came up with the idea to take some of the money that was profited and start our own sculpture garden. We started off with four to five pieces,” Kumpuris said.

 

Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. Breaking The Cycle by Kevin Kresse. (Photo by DeWaine Duncan/ AY Media Group).

 

From there, the idea of a sculpture garden in Little Rock took off. In a collaborative effort between the Little Rock Parks and Recreation department and philanthropist Robert Vogel, two financial contributions were made in order to build a sculpture park. According to Kumpuris, Leland Couch, director of Little Rock Parks and Recreation, designed the sculpture garden that is located inside of Julius Breckling Riverfront Park, thanks to contributions made by Vogel.

 

“Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden was designed to grow. Starting with around 30 sculptures, larger pieces were brought in. Now, the garden has 84 sculptures, with Riverfront Park probably having over 100,” Kumpuris said.

 

La Paire D’Amour by Darrell Davis. (Photos by DeWaine Duncan/AY Media Group).

 

Kumpuris has long been involved in the process of revitalizing downtown, and in doing so has been instrumental in a variety of projects in the district, including the River Market building and Clinton Presidential Library.

 

“I’ve wanted downtown to come back to life, and public art offers something to everyone without costing visitors a thing. Guests can go through the Vogel Schwartz garden and walk through Riverfront Park and just enjoy the pieces. If you look at the artists who created the sculptures around the garden, you’ll see that they have pieces displayed around the world,” Kumpuris said. “It gives people the impression of the city and serves as something to be proud of. Public art helps make the city a place you want to live.”

 

Together by Mark Leichliter. (Photos by DeWaine Duncan/AY Media Group).

 

Explaining that the creation of the sculpture garden was a team effort, Kumpuris credits many in the process of creating the space.

 

“I want people to understand that the sculpture garden is a nonprofit, and the sculptures, gardens and shows became a reality because of the contributions of Vogel and his family, the city and the Department of Parks and Recreation,” Kumpuris said. “Because of this, the city has $4 million worth of art that it owns, which is incredible when you consider the fact that Little Rock is a city of 200,000. Our city has amazing people who are generous enough to make this happen. The team effort really is what makes all of this possible.”

 

John Kinkade and the National Sculptors’ Guild

 

John Kinkade founded National Sculptors’ Guild in 1992, where he now serves as executive director. In meeting Kumpuris, Kinkade became aware of Little Rock and its plans to create a sculpture garden. The National Sculptors’ Guild has around 25 members and is responsible for placing public art around the country.

 

“At this time, Dean was very active working with the Clintons on bringing the Clinton Library to Little Rock. We started to work together because he asked if I would help them place sculptures around the Clinton Library,” Kinkade said. “The Clinton Library was a huge investment into downtown. We started with seven or eight pieces, and the project grew from there.”

 

Kinkade made 15 trips to Little Rock as the development of the sculpture garden was underway. With sculptures, the city also wanted to draw people from the Statehouse Convention Center to the Clinton Library.

 

“We were in the process of this European way of planning. We focused on how to move people from one place to another using art and sculpture, and we did this by planning out what was already in existence in Riverfront Park,” Kinkade said, explaining that their goal in this was to enhance the area.

 

The National Sculptors’ Guild at this time was known for its sculpture shows in Colorado, which were becoming increasingly popular. Upon the blooming relationship between Little Rock and Kumpuris, the organization agreed to put on a sculpture show in the area.

 

According to Kinkade, the annual event was well-received. The success of the show led to the success of building Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, which boasts beautiful artwork from artists around the country.

 

“When we think of how things have developed, we’re very proud of it. We brag about it all the time because we think it’s such a great asset for Little Rock,” Kinkade said.

 

While not from Arkansas, Kinkade said Little Rock has become his second home over the years, and he has been involved in other projects in the area. Notably, he was asked by the Arkansas Children’s Hospital board of directors to come up with a public art proposal to benefit the organization.

 

“Dorsey Jackson and I had become friends, and he asked me to come up with a plan for placing art around the children’s hospital. Most of the sculptures are placed in the garden, with a few inside the hospital,” Kinkade said.

 

In addition to his work in Little Rock, Kinkade has also been involved in placing a piece by Denny Haskew close to the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.

 

The Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail

 

Hot Springs has become a haven for artists to live and create. Mary Zunick, cultural affairs manager for Visit Hot Springs, said the Spa City is involved in a number of initiatives in order to promote all art.

 

Annually, Hot Springs hosts Arts & The Park in the spring. Art Moves serves as a display for work premiered during the festival, shown year-round between Majestic Park and Hollywood Park. The works feature QR codes by which the public can learn more about the artwork and artists. The exhibit changes every year, allowing guests and residents to become familiar with different artistic styles.

 

“Hot Springs is a destination for the arts, and with all of our initiatives, we are able to introduce art to people who may not enjoy museums or may not connect with all forms of art,” Zunick said.

 

Garvan Woodland Gardens

 

Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre, botanical garden owned by the University of Arkansas, features multiple settings for people of all ages to enjoy. The recent addition of sculptures to the children’s area brought a unique feature to the Hot Springs attraction.

 

In May 2021, Tom and Nancy Vandegrift contributed $120,000 to the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design to create a permanent sculpture garden in memory of their late daughter, Lee Vandegrift Felts. Felts died of cancer in 2019.

 

Otter Motion. (Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism).

 

“Nancy and I were looking for a way to pass along the memory of our daughter, Lee, in a way that showed her spirit and love. We wanted something for her children, family and friends to remember her by as time passes,” Tom said. 

 

Tom and Nancy are high school sweethearts, originally from El Dorado, who retired in Hot Springs. Residing in the Spa City, the Vandegrifts have been involved with Garvan Woodland Gardens for a long time.

 

“The people behind Garvan Woodland Gardens are really special. The staff presently and the staff of the past have really poured their heart into this garden,” Tom said.

 

Felts was mother to two daughters, Taylor and Lexie, and according to Nancy, loved all animals, especially horses. Felts even took her first horse, Detroit, when she moved to Virginia to attend Sweet Briar College.

 

Sculpture Gardens

Garden’s Edge. (Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism).

 

“Lee started riding hunter/jumper horses when she was 12, and she rode competitively for years. After she graduated college, she turned her attention to racehorses and worked as an exercise rider in the U.S. and then in Canada,” Nancy said. “She eventually owned a thoroughbred farm right outside of Lexington, Kentucky.”

 

On Nov. 29, 2021, Garvan Woodland Gardens held a dedication ceremony for The Lee Vandegrift Felts Sculpture Garden, which is now open. Taylor memorialized her mother’s zest for life and all living things. She said the sculpture garden perfectly captured that ethos. “This sculpture garden, filled with animals and filled with so much potential for wonder and happiness and laughter between parents and their children, is such a beautiful expression of our mother,” Taylor said. “We are both so thoroughly happy that her name will be associated with such a place.”

 

Sculptor Tim Cherry created the pieces displayed in the Garvan Woodland Garden.   Originally from Canada, Cherry came to the attention of the Vandegrifts 25 years ago when they stumbled across his work at an art show in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

“Tim is a very unique individual; he was so appreciative of the opportunity, and we are very appreciative of his work, which perfectly decorates the outdoor space,” Tom said.

 

Racing Razorback by Tim Cherry. (Photos Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism).

 

Cherry’s background is rooted in the outdoors. Starting his career as taxidermist, he focuses on wildlife art. At 19, Cherry created his first sculpture and has been sculpting since.

 

“Animals have always been an important part of my life; they were just something very special and something I enjoyed watching every day,” Cherry said. “I take my experience in the outdoors and bring that joy into the sculptures.

 

“My sculptures are very design-oriented. It is about finding a design I like and orchestrating shapes and lines to create a subject matter. Working in the studio, I find harmony between all of these pieces and find a happy medium in creating.”

 

Cherry’s work can be seen around the country, including at Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden and along Riverfront Park in Little Rock.

 

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