Bring Your Camera & Walking Shoes

By Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky

It was a beautiful autumn day –the kind of day I’d waited for all summer and one to treasure before winter arrives– when I arrived at Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills with my camera and walking shoes.

Besides a fresh coat of red paint on the park’s signature “The Way” sculpture, a lot has been happening at the park, with the promise of even more to come in 2012. Executive Director Marilu Knode was quick to point out the park’s wonderful features. Knode is also an Aronson Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at UMSL. Clearly, she knows her art!

Established in 1976, Laumeier Sculpture park covers 105 acres, making it both the largest and the oldest sculpture park in the nation, right here in St. Louis’ backyard.  The outdoor “galleries” showcase over 75 works and serve as a space for temporary or performative projects. The success of the outdoor gallery concept is evident by the many museums nationwide that have since developed outdoor exhibition spaces. Art belongs in a beautiful setting, and nature offers a continually changing venue. The variety of backgrounds, whether summer-green or winter-bare, presents the sculptures in a myriad of ways. Ever-changing light throughout the day and the year changes the experience of every work for visitors.

“New installations reflect the playfulness of the park,” said Knode. “The permanent collection even includes pet-friendly works, as we explore the many kinds of species that inhabit our world.”  A great lead-in to a walk in the woods:

Tea Makipaa created six sculptures for the “Not Without My Dog” installation for 2011 that highlight the senses dogs use to “read” the landscape, whether by sight, sound or smell. The exhibition guide explains, “Through each of these stations—from a dog house town, a treasure-filled compost pile (entitled, “Treasury of Dog Smells”), a self-guided walking tour and a karaoke machine to fly-away toys and a human-canine bridge—Makipaa allows dogs to lead their companions down Laumeier’s Nature Trail, reversing the sensorial hierarchy imposed on them in our human-centric world.”

Educational programming includes classes, camps, self-guided and docent-led tours.  Various family-friendly outdoor musical performances and gallery artists talks, connect Laumeier to the community. “We hope to create longer-term relationships with art,” said Knode. A winter series on collecting is already planned. Each three-hour segment will assist new and established art collectors with such topics as how to treat works on paper, hot to collect jewelry, how to maintain sculptural works. Details can be found on the website (www.laumeier.org).