Museums are educational and inspirational and all, but let’s be honest, they can be a bit stuffy — literally and figuratively. Appreciating a timeless work of art, especially a large-scale sculpture, can be challenging in a dim, musty room crowded with busts, paintings, and vases, each screaming for attention. How much easier it is to savor in the open air, where sunshine and grass, waterfront, prairie, or forest provide atmosphere, scale, and perspective. To experience sculpture surrounded by trees and sky enhances the appreciation of both man’s and nature’s contributions to the scene.
The appeal is compounded with a thoughtfully curated collection, placed along a path, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Within 100 miles of downtown St. Louis, you can find several examples of such sculpture parks or gardens, all of which are free to the public. Not only do the parks include trails; each is near other bastions of nature such as conservation areas and biking/hiking trails.
Keep in mind that the hours listed are subject to change based on COVID restrictions and special events; check the website before you go.
801 Market Street, St. Louis, MO; citygardenstl.org
Hours: Daily from sunrise to 10 p.m.
Highlights: The park’s tidy 2.9 acres include 24 works by international artists. The landscape is inspired by the area’s rivers, combining native trees and plants, five rain gardens, and three water features. In the past, the pools and fountains have lured hot visitors for a quick respite but will be closed this summer.
Connections: Citygarden is part of the Gateway Mall, a mile-long stretch of relatively uninterrupted green space that connects to the Arch, riverfront, and Mississippi Greenway. It is a short walk from all downtown attractions, including Enterprise Center, Busch Stadium, and scores of shops and restaurants.
Grace Taylor Broughton Sculpture Garden
Art Museum, 35 Fine Art Drive, St. Louis, MO; slam.org
Hours: Daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Highlights: The outdoor gallery showcases the St. Louis Art Museum’s international collection of 20th-century and contemporary sculpture, each installed in a garden “room” separated by hornbeam and serviceberry trees.
Connections: The Art Museum is steps away from the myriad trails of Forest Park, as well as its many renowned institutions. Who needs more than that?
Laumeier Sculpture Park
12580 Rott Road, St. Louis, MO 63127; laumeiersculpturepark.org
Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. to 30 minutes after sunset.
Highlights: More than 60 outdoor sculptures are strategically scattered among 105 acres of woods, fields, and lawns. A few welcome touching or even climbing; check the signs near each display. The indoor collection is open Thursdays and Saturdays, though capacity is limited to 50 people.
Connections: Laumeier includes three relatively short trails: Art Hike, .77 miles; Central Pathway, .64 miles; and Western Woodland, .15 miles. Bikes are permitted on paved pathways. The park’s website includes a downloadable nature guide, scavenger hunt, and audio tour.
Henry Lay Sculpture Park
17533 State Highway UU, Louisiana, MO; slu.edu/lay-center
Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. to dusk, January through October; hours may vary in November-December.
Highlights: Part of St. Louis University’s 350-acre Lay Center for Education and the Arts, the sculpture park includes a dozen permanent works and several pieces on seasonal display. Some are integrated into Story Woods, where artists have interpreted literature and art in a natural setting.
Connections: A 5-mile, gravel path traverses rolling terrain that includes an oak and hickory forest, open fields, and two lakes. The trail is suitable for hefty strollers.
Goldman-Kuenz Sculpture Park
2600 Richview Road, Mount Vernon, IL; cedarhurst.org/sculpture-park
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday
Highlights: More than 70 sculptures grace the 80 acres surrounding the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, which offers art classes and includes five indoor galleries. Among the most popular works is Kimball by Chicago’s John Kearney, sculpted from car bumpers.
Connections: Three paved trails are measured in steps, a plus for the fitness tracker crowd: South Lawn, 1,250 steps; Sounds & Sculpture, 1,400; and the North Woods Trail Challenge, 915. Cedarhurst also has produced a downloadable map and walking tour sound bites available by scanning the QR code. Pets are welcome on a leash, and 10 of the works near the park’s perimeter are lit at night for a walking tour called Art After Dark.
You never know where you’ll find an unexpected outcropping of sculpture, tucked into a small park or vacant lot. For example:
Webster Groves Sculpture Park comprises works tucked into what could be mistaken for a traffic island at Gore and Kirkham avenues. But it’s a worth a stroll, enroute to Shady Creek Nature Sanctuary to the east or the shops and restaurants of Old Webster to the south.
Rootwad Park highlights a pair of sculptures by Bob Cassilly, the visionary behind City Museum. It’s situated just off the Mississippi Greenway, a few blocks north of the Biddle Street Trailhead, with Mural Mile as a backdrop.
Also worth considering is Ellen Clark Sculpture Park, situated on the Saint Louis University campus across from St. Francis Xavier church. Though it remained closed at press time, the park features 16 abstract sculptures by Brother Mel Meyer, a Marianist and native of St. Louis, and is affectionately known as the SLU Dog Park due to the plethora of four-legged visitors. Thirteen of Meyer’s works are also on display at the Marianist Retreat Center in Wildwood, accessible from the Al Foster Memorial Trail along the Meramec River.
Author: Kathleen Nelson is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Jackie Ferrara’s Laumier Project, courtesy of Laumier Sculpture Park.