Strolling or driving Landis Avenue in downtown Vineland has always been interesting, but now even more so. You may be startled by a solo trumpeter near the Landis Theater who’s maybe seeking work. Near the military mural at the Boulevard, you can see a famous scene taking place as World War II officially ended—a sailor in Times Square surprising a nurse with a kiss (“Embracing Peace”). You could also take selfies with a Mariachi band serenading passers-by with the mural behind them (“Los Mariachis”).
Are you imagining things? No, but the people aren’t real, of course: They’re sculptures, put up last week by the Main Street Vineland District (The AVE) in cooperation with its partners.
These striking works were cast by the late Seward Johnson (1930-2020), a New Jersey native and world-famous artist.
In all, six sculptures were placed downtown last week to promote art as well as The Ave.
Main Street Vineland is dedicated to promoting the downtown business district as a great place to live, work, dine and enjoy.
This art installation is made possible by funding from the Cumberland County Cultural & Heritage Commission and the Neighborhood Preservation Program, according to Russell Swanson, executive director of Main Street Vineland.
“We are so grateful for our grant partners who appreciate the value of investing in cultural programs such as this exciting project,” he said.
“This is an extension of our very successful Urban Canvases on the Ave project, which has brought several murals to our downtown with one more in the works,” he added. “The sculptures are strategically placed and will help activate the existing murals.”
One or more statues were placed in each historic block from the 400 to the 800 and will remain in place until January 2024. All the sculptures are along The Ave’s downtown walking trail called Walk the Ave. Tours, trolley rides and other programming will be planned and accompanied by an explorer guide and map.
“These sculptures are on loan from the Seward Johnson Atelier as part of the Main Street revitalization efforts for creating cultural experiences to enrich communities and inspire engagement,” Swanson said.
The Atelier expands the capacity of artists through immersive making and creative collaboration, producing and preserving works of art and design and creating cultural experiences to enrich communities and inspire engagement. All fees generated worldwide by its loan and placing of the Seward sculptures flow back to the Atelier.
Seward Johnson was an intense and vivacious, larger-than-life figure in the arts and philanthropy internationally. While his artistic ambitions didn’t begin until he took a beginner’s sculpture class at age 38, his drive, productivity, and genuine affection for people propelled him to a high level of visibility.
He started Johnson Atelier in Hamilton, NJ in 1974. He later founded Grounds for Sculpture, a dazzling 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum, also in Hamilton, and it has become one of the premier cultural destinations in New Jersey.
Seward wanted to make contemporary sculpture accessible and offer people from all backgrounds the opportunity to become comfortable with contemporary art. Grounds for Sculpture was conceived as a place where audiences could experience sculpture in a familiar, accessible, and informal setting.
“Seward is an artist that everybody loves to hate,” David Levy, director of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, said several years ago, a reference to those who dismiss his work as kitsch. “But quietly and selflessly, he is an enormously important citizen of art.”
Johnson was the recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s 2019 Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award. Other recipients of this award include leading artists in the field like Magdalena Abakanowicz, Fernando Botero, Louise Bourgeois, Mark di Suvero, Richard Hunt, William King, Manuel Neri, Claes Oldenburg, and Jun Kaneko.
Collections of Seward’s 450 smaller sculptures are rotated for limited times among venues that desire them, while many of Seward’s singular majestic works have permanent installations in cities in many locales. (The full-sized “Embracing Peace” is 26 feet tall and weighs 35,000 pounds.)
Swanson became interested in Seward’s works last year at a national Main Street convention and worked to bring a collection to stay in Vineland for six months.
“Some of our goals for this endeavor include increasing foot traffic in the downtown, promoting the arts, capitalizing on positive press coverage, and promoting Walk the Ave foot trails,” Swanson noted.
There will be a series of “micro-events” held connected to the meaning of each sculpture. For example, “Embracing Peace,” will be the centerpiece for celebrations on V-J Day (end of World War II) on September 12 as well as Veterans Day (end of World War I) on November 11.
The fine artistry and depth of feeling in these installations can please both the eye and the spirit. “Yuck, Go Fetch,” is the quintessential man with his dog, the person pointing at the horizon, the dog licking his face with reverence in his eyes. “Stormy Weather,” is a determined woman simultaneously trying to steady her umbrella, hold her billowing skirt, and clutch her bag as the apparent wind and rain try to defeat her.
The statues are life-size and set in concrete with small descriptive copper plates. Each is placed at a location complementing its theme in a sense.
By visiting these unique artworks, you’ll be intrigued and possibly inspired—and you’ll also get to better know and support your downtown.
First Event on August 26
Celebrate National Dog Day on Saturday, August 26 with us at our sculpture “Yuk, Go Fetch” in front of the Landis Marketplace, 631 E. Landis Avenue. Bring your four-legged friend for photos with your pet and with the sculpture, and visit our vendors including mobile dog grooming, dog treats, and veterinarians. DJ Tony Gambino (Gambino Entertainment) will keep keeping us entertained all day.