Sculpture Walk at Founders Park in Downtown Johnson City + Tips for Viewing Public Art

It was the perfect day to explore the sculptures at Founders Park in downtown Johnson City.

Johnson City Public Art Committee hosted a guided tour of the 14 new sculptures on display in Downtown Johnson City on Saturday, September 30. Bill Brown, guest juror, walked us through Founders Park and the surrounding area making stops along the way to discuss the selected artists in this year’s Biennial Sculpture Exhibition. The walk was at a leisurely pace on a gorgeous, fall day with an open dialogue of the selection process.

Grab some friends and enjoy a walk through Founders Park and the downtown area. Be sure to download the Downtown Johnson City app and click “More” to access the “Public Art” guide.

Hey, y’all! It is time to grab a good cup of coffee and sit a spell with me as we chat about the recent sculpture walk I attended at Founders Park. *happy dance* It was a lovely guided tour filled with fans of the growing public art scene in Johnson City. Bill Brown led the group and gave some pretty good tips on viewing outdoor sculpture. Using advice from Bill and my own experience, I have complied ten tips on viewing public art–with an emphasis on outdoor sculpture.

Bill Brown of Anvil Arts Studio, Inc. chatting about the importance of looking all away around a sculpture and seeing it from different viewpoints. How the piece looks from 60 feet away, 20 feet away, and 12 inches away.

tip one: slowly approach the artwork.

Take time to look at it from 60 feet away…20 feet away…12 inches away. How does the piece look differently from a distance versus up close?

This is one piece you need to see in person in order to really appreciate how it acts as a window to downtown Johnson City and its new, but old sign at King Commons.

tip two: look at how the outdoor artwork fits in and accentuates its surroundings.

Does the piece act as a window to something beyond it? How do the colors of the artwork play with the colors of nature that surround it? Does it complement its surroundings well? Does it blend it or stand out?

Fortitude II by artist Mark Krucke of Sarasosta, Florida. Krucke uses natural forms and mathematical formulas in his work. This piece is part of the Fortitude series which uses the Fibonacci spiral to create the stem and overall form of the leaf. To learn more about this artist, click here.

Aquarium by Marvin Tadlock of Bristol, Virginia. This large, steel sculpture presents the viewer with different phases of life, and an opportunity for the viewer to contemplate what is presented before them–from the titled aquarium to the fish that has sprouted a large set of wings.

tip three: observe each layer|element individually.

How does each element contribute to the artwork as a whole? How do the pieces flow together to tell the story of the artwork? Is it easy or difficult to see the different elements and layers? Is there one thing that stands out?

Bill Brown, the guest juror and sculpture-walk guide, asking the audience how “Aquarium” makes them feel and what they see in the piece. For more about this outdoor sculpture, download the Downtown Johnson City app and click on “More” to access the “Public Art” guide.

tip four: get to know the artists before you go.

Check to see if the city you are visiting has a public art guide/app. Visit the artists’ websites for their bios, photos of other works, and their contact info. Don’t be shy. If you have a question about an artwork, email the artist. **Most websites have contact forms. Don’t be afraid to use them!**

Marvin Tadlock explaining the lifecycle of his sculpture to the audience.

Marving Tadlock created “Aquarium” out of mild steel and stainless steel. Here, he is talking about the large fish that is still alive in the titled aquarium and the fish with the wings that appears to be taking flight. How cool it was to have the sculptor there explaining his artwork!

Marvin Tadlock standing with his 12.5-foot tall sculpture “Aquarium”–which represents the hope of a life hereafter.

tip five: walk all the way around.

How does the artwork change as you move around it? Do you have a favorite view of the piece? Why or why not?

“Balancing Time II” by Ed Walker of Seagrove, North Carolina, Fabricated aluminum, 12′ x 4′ x 6′. Walker’s goal is to show the reverence he has for the natural environment, and he hopes those viewing his sculpture will as well. To learn more about Ed Walker and his art, click here.

“Metamorphosis” by Mary Ruden of Seymour, Tennessee was donated for permanent exhibit by Marcia and Lewis Songer. This sculpture symbolizes life cycle, change, release, and rebirth. For more about Mary Ruden, click here.

tip six: look up.

How does the artwork contrast or work with the sky and the clouds? Does it look different on a cloudy day versus a sunny day. If so, how? 

“He Stopped and Turned to the Light” made of locust wood by Charlie Brouwer of Willis, Virginia was donated for permanent exhibit by Wexler. This sculpture reminds us all to take a moment and enjoy the warmth of the sun or a cup of coffee with a friend.

tip seven: compare the texture(s) of the artwork to the natural textures around it.

Are the texture(s) of the sculpture rough, uneven, smooth, fine…? Do those textures blend in or stand out against the sculpture’s surroundings? Is the artwork in the perfect location for its texture(s) or would it look better somewhere else? Explain why.

Next on the tour was “Arbor Spire” by Aaron Hussey of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“My sculpture, Arbor Spire, is one of many works continuous in a body of art that I have been investigating for decades. Organic and structural forms reference connections between the built environment and the natural world,” states Hussey.

“Genesis” by Marc Moulton of Statesboro, Georgia and Duke Oursler of Macomb, Illinois is located at the western entrance to Founders Park. It was the first work commissioned by the Public Art Committee.

Up close view of the Founders sculpture

Mother Nature also has an art show happening at Founders Park.

“Hybridized Daylily” made of granite and stainless steel was created by Shawn Morin of Bowling Green, Ohio. “Hybridized Daylily” started out as a granite flower for the artist’s wife, who is an avid gardener and loves the dayliles their son is creating as a part-time daylily hybridizer.

tip eight: compare the scale of the sculpture to its surroundings.

Is it too small, too large, or just right compared to its surroundings? Does the scale of the sculpture and its surroundings feel intimate, dramatic, natural…?

Larry Millard of Athens, Georgia created “Stepped Tower” out of steel, and the hazy, reflective surface gives glimpses of the sculpture’s surroundings. To learn more about the artist’s inspiration behind this piece, download the Downtown Johnson City app. To explore this artist, visit his website here.

tip nine: observe the color(s).

How many colors to you see? Are those colors part of the sculpture, or are those colors coming from its surroundings? Are the colors bold, vibrant, subtle, natural, muted…? How does the color of the outdoor sculpture work with its setting? 

“Divided” by James Westermann is “a great example of a piece that started off entirely different….Often you just have to listen to what the materials are telling you and go along with them.” (From the artist)

painted steel, granite
8′ x 5′ x 3′

Closer view of “Divided” by James Westermann

Great view of “Through Someone Else’s Eyes” and “Balancing Time II” at Founders Park in downtown Johnson City, Tennessee

tip ten: be open-minded.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to observe a work of art. You do not have to know fancy art terms in order to express your opinions or give your interpretations. Do not reject the ideas of others. They are just seeing it differently. It doesn’t make anyone right or wrong. Art is all about starting an open dialogue and keeping the conversation going by being open-minded!

“Through Someone Else’s Eyes” created by Elisha Gold of Memphis, Tennessee.

This is what I love about public art and this sculpture by Elisha Gold! The rusty old truck, the blue sky with wispy white clouds, and the tree with its slightly changing leaves–all of it working perfectly together.

“High Rise” by Charles Pilkey of Mint Hill, North Carolina is located on Buffalo Street in downtown Johnson City.

Thanks so much for sitting a spell with me today as we explored some of the public art in downtown Johnson City. If you are in the area, take a tour of the local art and let me know what you think + share your photos with #exploredowntownjc. If you are looking for a fun weekend getaway, make Johnson City your destination.

To learn more about public art in Johnson City and the mission of Johnson City Public Art, visit their website here.





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