Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Greetings From Grounds for Sculpture: The Legacy of Seward Johnson

Daydream sculpture by Seward Johnson
"Daydream," aluminum figures 60 feet tall.

Long-time New Jersey resident and son of a Johnson & Johnson founder, J. Seward Johnson, 89, died at his second home in Florida at the start of the pandemic in March.

He died of cancer, not COVID-19. Yet to me his legacy has special meaning during the long months of social distancing and lockdown in the remainder of 2020.

Sculpture of women lounging on beach
"The Power of Suggestion," if sand were snow.
Seward was always, always creating. His work continues to delight and fascinate people today, and it will for years to come.

Seward finds wit and beauty and charm in the ordinary. In his more whimsical works, he invites us all to experience and celebrate grandeur.

A prolific sculptor, his hyper-realistic work graces many public places in and around New Jersey: Nowhere more so than at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, the sculpture park he founded in 1992.

I visited the 40-acre site last weekend, trekking through the snow like a madman to capture these images of Seward's work.


On a personal note, I am writing this while with a half dozen strangers who have gathered for an online meetup called “Just Shut Up & Write!”

It’s very therapeutic, and highly recommended.

Large sculpture of the American Gothic couple
"God Bless America," American Gothic in NJ, 14 feet high. 

Writers of all genres log in, and a host leads introductions. People often share what they will work on. Then the host sets a timer and tells everyone to “shut up and write!”

So that’s what you do — muted, cameras off — until the group reconvenes for a break. Maybe there’s another round of writing after that, but that’s the gist. has info on how to join one of the 319 Shut Up & Write! groups worldwide.

Sculptures not on current display at Grounds for Sculpture
Works by Seward Johnson in outside storage.
Back in pre-COVID times, these meeting used to be in real life, generally at coffee houses.

How quaint.

How times have changed.


All our journeys have taken twists and turns since March. Trying to stay creative has lowered lockdown stress for me.

In April, I submitted a short-story about an orange cat to a fiction contest. Our family cat had died, so the tale was horror-tinged. I also integrated more photography into blog posts and experimented with captions on Instagram, posting haiku captions of "Ghost Town" after returning to work in New York City a few days each week in the summer.

In my hometown in New Jersey, the New Milford Library used personal Pinterest and Facebook posts in a repository of local stories about the pandemic and lockdown. Anna, the librarian, worked with Janet, a local writer and teacher, to start a virtual photo-journaling group.

We met weekly via Zoom in the summer and fall, taking part in prompted writing exercises with neighbors and local high school students. Journalist Laura Holson joined one great session to talk about creativity. Other sessions inspired new poetry.

Tree views of a Seward Johnson sculpture
Views of "The Awakening," a giant embed in earth.

Meanwhile, each Saturday morning I've joined a webcast hosted by former New York Times photo editor Steffen Kaplan. His "Spin It Social Hour" is an entertaining and informative conversation with photography pros, featuring and promoting their work.

So thank you to Steffen, Laura, Anna, Janet, Suzanne (who organized this weekend's Black Glass Gallery visit to Grounds for Sculpture), to the sympathetic strangers writing with me online right now, and to all the authors, artists and photographers who have helped me through 2020.

I believe Seward Johnson's advice to all of us would be this:

"Life is too short. Try to leave something of lasting value to others. Just shut up and create."

Long and close view of a statue of two lovers
From afar, these two look very real!

Two sculptures by Seward Johnson
I pulled the mask above the jogger's nose
(don't tell anyone);
also, I love the painter's optimistic view of what he sees!

Oversized sculpture of two women on a park bench
"Crossing Paths"; I inserted myself for scale.


Group photo of photographers in front of a statue
Photo by the great Mickey Sica.
Black Glass Gallery photographers at Grouds for Sculpture, 12/20;
I'm second from left, my right hand in imitation
of "Redon's Fantasy of Venus" by Seward Johnson.

Find higher-res versions of these photos from Grounds for Sculpture in this Google Photos folder.

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