For anyone who has ever dreamt of going inside a painting, visiting Giverny without traveling to France, or seeing the incredible blending of art and nature — we have just the place for you. Grounds for Sculpture, created by artist Seward Johnson (aka John Seward Johnson II), is a gorgeous sculpture park that exhibits the transformative experience of seeing art in nature. Not only is it a sculpture park, but it also serves as a garden + arboretum as well as a museum. We took a trip down to this New Jersey sculpture garden to explore its history + culture — as well as appreciate the beautiful art. Read on for more on this dynamic and fun sculpture park, located at 80 Sculptors Way in Hamilton, New Jersey.
(Photo credit: Seward Johnson, A Turn of the Century, ©1995, 2003 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc. and Seward Johnson, Painting by the Glow of the Green Fairy, ©2016 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc.)
About The Founder
Seward Johnson was born into the legacy of the Johnson & Johnson family (his grandfather was the co-founder) on April 16th, 1930. But instead of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, Seward made the bold choice to follow a passion for art. He began painting in the 1960s but did not transition to sculptures until 1968, which better suited his desire to immerse himself in a 3-dimensional art experience. Later, in 1974, he established the Johnson Atelier, a sculpture school and foundry in Hamilton, NJ.
Seward’s most notable sculptures included The Awakening (1980), a 70-foot statue broken into five pieces depicting a giant trying to unearth himself from the ground. What Seward was best known for, however, was his lifelike human sculptures that were strategically placed to blend into their quotidian surrounds.
(Photo credit: Seward Johnson, King Lear, ©1982, 2008 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc.)
Hitchhiker (1983) is at the California Avenue gate at Hofstra University, located on Long Island. Allow Me (1983) is a bronzed man holding his umbrella in Portland, Oregon. His piece, Double Check (1982), is of a businessman sitting and rifling through his briefcase. After the attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, this sculpture became an iconic image of the tragedy. Covered in debris from the collapsed towers and one of few artworks to have survived, Double Check was so lifelike that NYC Firefighters tried to rescue it.
(Photo credit: Seward Johnson, Double Check- The Survivor, ©1982, 2014 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc.)
In 2005, Seward Johnson told the New York Times, “When he survived, it was if he was one of them — surviving as well.” In 2006, the sculpture was moved to Zuccotti Park, where you can still see it today. Many of Seward’s smaller public art pieces have endured and are located all across the country, hoping to surprise you into thinking they’re real.
Read More: Hudson County Artists to Know + Collect
History of Grounds For Sculpture
(Photo credit: Philip Grausman, Leucantha, aluminum, 108 in x 118 in x 118 in, Grounds For Sculpture, Gift of The Seward Johnson Atelier, © Artist or Artist’s Estate)
In 1984, Seward Johnson dreamed of creating a public sculpture garden near Hamilton, NJ, near his foundry and studio. He aimed to make contemporary sculpture accessible to everyone, using the atelier as a place for sculptors and students to create and display their work. In 1989, ground broke on the early sculpture park in the old New Jersey State Fairgrounds. In 1992, the sculpture park opened. Today, the sculpture park exhibits over 300 pieces, including pieces from renowned sculptors from all over the world.
The Park Today
Grounds For Sculpture is a unique outdoor space to visit. First, the 42-acre property is a sculpture park highlighting spectacular modern art. Second, it is a garden and arboretum — and good ones at that. Third, it is a museum with changing exhibitions, and accessible art, considered a premier cultural destination in New Jersey.
(Photo credit: Leonda Finke, Standing Figure from Women in the Sun, 1988, bronze, 70 in x 33 in x 18 in, Grounds For Sculpture, Gift of The Seward Johnson Atelier, © Artist’s Estate and Carlos Dorrien, Nine Muses, 1990- 97, stone: granite, 132 in x 240 in x 360 in, Grounds For Sculpture, Gift of The Seward Johnson Atelier, © Artist or Artist’s Estate)
The first impression as you visit the garden is awe. A giant dancing couple stands in impressionist glory right in front of the visitor’s center. It is striking, simultaneously making you feel welcome and rather cheerful about your upcoming visit. This is how the Grounds For Sculpture draws visitors in, presenting giant statues around the parking lot which beckon people into the rest of the park. Seward intended the park to do just that: pull admirers into a great wander to then get lost amid the sculptures and greenery. He was intentional about the curving web of varied pathways so that it was always unclear which monumental sculpture would come into view around the corner.
(Photo credit: John Martini, The Couple, 1999, steel, 92 in x 61 1/2 in x 12 in, Grounds For Sculpture, Gift of The Seward Johnson Atelier, © Artist or Artist’s Estate)
Here and there, Seward’s grand sense of humor is evident — a bronze superhero climbing a building, sculpted children balancing on the edge of a rooftop, or a fiberglass serpent emerging from the waterlilies. The gardens are fun, unpretentious, and a great place to visit for anyone ages 1-100. One of the best parts of a visit is the sheer variety of people. From foreigners of all kinds to children, families, school groups, and the elderly, the Grounds For Sculpture has something for everyone.
(Photo credit: Bruce Beasley, Torqueri XIII, 2018, stainless steel, 270 in x 137 in x 141 in, Courtesy of the Artist, © Artist or Artist’s Estate)
The grounds display modern, more high-brow sculpture pieces of art. Think lush lawns and subtly tufted mounds with stainless steel monuments. But there are also sculptures meant to be fun — three witches bubbling a cauldron of bones, a picnic with a naked woman, and countless faux painters with their easels, taking in the views. There is an excellent combination of world-class sculpture, Seward Johnson’s pieces, and newly emerging local artists just getting their foot into the art world.
(Photo credit: Seward Johnson, Confrontational Vulnerability, ©1996, 2011 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc.)
One of the garden’s highlights is its immersive copy of Giverny, Monet’s famous home and gardens in France. This park area is a calming treasure with a replica patina bridge, cascading willow limbs, and bunches of blooming water lilies. From the terrace of Rat’s restaurant, named after the wooded enclave where it’s located, you can live inside a French painting without ever leaving the country.
Graveled and shaded pathways make walking through the park all the more enjoyable. There are also beautiful allées and gateways lined with trees and foliage. Even in the intense summer heat, the park has misting zones that enhance the atmosphere and intrigue of specific sculptures. If you’re more into indoor art pieces, stop by one of the old buildings from the State Faire, framed with original state-commissioned tiles. In addition, there are six galleries with rotating art exhibits located on site. There is always something to see at the park with numerous events, workshops, tours, and concerts.
(Photo credit: Andrzej Pitynski, Space, Conquer or Die – Swiatowid, (detail), 2013, bronze, 432 in x 161 in x 159 in, Grounds For Sculpture, Gift of The Seward Johnson Atelier, © Artist or Artist’s Estate)
Seward Johnson passed at the age of 89 in 2020, but he was still passionate about creating and supporting art up to his final days. A visit to his sculpture garden is like a visit with him, his inspiration, sense of humor, and passion for public accessibility to the highest art forms. The Grounds For Sculpture encourages the interaction and immersion of art in nature, making it a truly unique place to visit and explore.
Grounds For Sculpture | 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton
(Photo credit: Bruce Beasley, Horizon II, 2006, bronze, 26 in x 126 in x 40 in, Grounds For Sculpture, Purchase with Funds Provided by the Birney Family Foundation in Memory of Leeshan Birney and Mayling Birney, © Artist or Artist’s Estate)
The Grounds For Sculpture is open every day from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Friday. The park requires online reservations in advance. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, military, and healthcare workers, and $10 for students. Children 5 and under are free. Sign up for a membership for ticket discounts and perks. The site also has two restaurants and a museum shop. Please respect the gardens and practice proper etiquette to keep the park pristine for future generations.