The City of Mesa is a mostly residential community southeast of Phoenix, in what locals refer to as 'the East Valley.' For several years now, they have been renovating the downtown area.If you happen to be in Mesa a walk up and down the four or five blocks that are considered downtown is pleasant.There are shops and municipal buildings, as well as the visitor's bureau.
This winter Mesa, along with individual and corporate sponsors, was able to secure an exhibit of sculptures created by J. Seward Johnson, Jr.The group of fifteen pieces was aptly named "Sculpture in the Streets."The whimsical figures graced downtown Mesa for several months.
Who is J. Seward Johnson, Jr. and How Does He Do It?
Mr. Johnson lives in New Jersey and is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He has been creating his art for more than 30 years. With his sculptures, he celebrates the common man and simple pleasures.
Seward Johnson's works have been displayed in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. He has created over 200 different statues made from cast bronze and it may take up to two years for him to complete one piece. Does he use real models? Is that real clothing they are wearing? How long does it take to make a statue? The answers to these questions can be found at hisofficial website.
Biltmore Fashion Park Adds Exhibit
In March, 2000 theBiltmore Fashion Park added an exhibit of sixteen of Seward's pieces to its center among the ritzy shops. The beautifully manicured gardens would be worth a visit alone, but the combination of sculptures and floral design are wonderful.Sponsored by American Express and Volvo on Camelback, they will be on display until April 7, 2000. At the Visitor Center (near Macy's) you will find written information about the exhibit.
Mesa Ready for an Encore?
At the Press Conference held at the close of the Mesa exhibit, it was clear that the Sculpture in the Streets exhibit had been a resounding success.The officials at that meeting mentioned that there is an effort underway to bring another display of Johnson's work to the community in November 2000 that would last four months.Tax deductible individual and corporate donations are being accepted toward the goal of raising $40,000.To make a donation, please contact Ultimate Imaginations, Inc. at 480-890-2613. Who knows--this could lead to some of Seward Johnson's creations becoming a permanent part of the Mesa downtown landscape!
Public Art - Who Needs it?
I remember it was not too long ago that the local controversy surrounded public art on the newly constructed Squaw Peak Parkway.Why was there a coffee pot on the side barrier?Who commissioned non-Arizona artists to do the work?Why spend the money?Aside from the fact that it slowed down traffic (a good thing?) while everyone tried to pick out all the pieces displayed along the freeway, I enjoyed it.Public art can add a spark to that errand we have to run, that trip we have to make, that walk from here to there.
I admit that I know very little about art.I appreciate fine museums and the ritual involved in slowly perusing the displays.I certainly have my favorites: impressionists, watercolors, modern art that includes motion. I stroll the halls of art museums and often wonder what makes one piece priceless and another piece mediocre.I know that a piece's value to me is related to how it makes me feel. If a piece can evoke an emotion--whether sadness, amazement or glee--it has done its job for me.
The Seward Johnson sculptures are simply, well, delightful.They seem like old friends to me, and I am strangely excited when I see one that I've not seen before. People are drawn to the statues.Children must touch them to see if they are real.Adults and children alike can be seen petting a bronze dog.Families offer to take pictures of one another with a statue.Strangers, old and young, speak to one another and smile a lot.What could be better than that?