Realizing a Dream

The new sculpture garden at Donovan Park takes shape this summer.

by Fisher Stolz
The new sculpture garden at Donovan Park takes shape this summer.
Inside the sculpture studio at Bradley University, where many of the sculptures for the Donovan Sculpture Garden are being created.

The Peoria Park District’s Donovan Sculpture Garden has been born! DSG unveiled its first artwork on a sunny Friday, February 26, 2021. The first sculpture, coincidentally titled “Here and There,” was a donation from the Urbana Park District. It was set in Donovan Park near the intersection of Northmoor and Sheridan on one of the six new sculpture pads installed in the park through the fundraising efforts of Build Peoria.

Still in its infancy, the sculpture garden is about to have a growth spurt. The Park District and members of the DSG committee plan to set five more sculptures in Donovan Sculpture Garden by the end of this summer. Free and open to all, individuals, families and groups can get to know and enjoy the sculptures in a spectrum of light and seasons in the park landscape.

Inspired Locations

Donovan is a former golf course that I used to play. Having visited many sculpture parks over the years, I have noticed that many sculpture park layouts are similar to golf course designs. A great example is Storm King Art Center in New York. It is defined by public art enveloping a primary building and long, walkable meadows that lead to sculptures in the distance. As one approaches an artwork, others are revealed a short distance away. 

In February, Michelle Lanning's “Here and There” was unveiled at the northwest corner of Peoria’s Donovan Park. Photo by David Vernon
In February, Michelle Lanning's “Here and There” was unveiled at the northwest corner of Peoria’s Donovan Park. Photo by David Vernon

At Donovan, Cyd’s in the Park is a great draw and anchor. From that location, tee and green areas are visible 150 to 500 yards apart, with rolling fairways connecting them. The built-in design of the park is exceptional for exhibiting sculpture and further engaging local visitors and tourists.

Artist Taylor Fawcett at work on "Sweet Like Lemonade," which is destined for Donovan Park.
Artist Taylor Fawcett at work on "Sweet Like Lemonade," which is destined for Donovan Park.

A sculpture garden can be a place of meditation and healing. Artworks can pose questions to contemplate. They can be a source of affirmation and energy. Each individual perceives and interacts with the sculptures from their unique perspectives and experiences. 

At the same time, humans have many essential connections, which can lead to new conversations and friendships. Art can communicate beyond the barriers of language. It makes an impression in the memory like a casting pattern in a mold. Sculpture activates the surrounding space, giving physical presence to an idea.

This dream of a sculpture garden in Peoria could not have become a reality without community support and the vision of so many key individuals and organizations. The original Donovan Sculpture Garden committee members have researched, fundraised, and created brand, web and media presence, among other behind-the-scenes volunteer work. I cannot thank them enough for all they have done. 

Public art builds communities, strengthens culture and brings economic benefits. Inspired locations become destinations. A great regional example is just north of us in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They started with a community-led effort to purchase “La Grande Vitesse” by Alexander Calder, and that began a transformation of the city. “La Grande Vitesse” is now the focal point of the Grand Rapids city logo. Urban renewal grew around Calder Plaza, more public art was added throughout the city, and one of the most beautiful sculpture parks in the world, the Frederick Meijer Sculpture Garden, was developed.

At left: Jasen Nigg makes hot contact with his moon-themed steel public sculpture. Center: Roy Rogers looks over his work of bronze, steel and wood. Right: Sydney Ryan details her bronze relief.
At left: Jasen Nigg makes hot contact with his moon-themed steel public sculpture. Center: Roy Rogers looks over his work of bronze, steel and wood. Right: Sydney Ryan details her bronze relief.

A Preview of Attractions

I am extremely pleased to let you know that the artists exhibiting work in Donovan Sculpture Garden are from right here in our community. Internationally appreciated, local superstar and Lincoln Academy Laureate Preston Jackson will be setting a new work in the summer of 2021 in the Donovan Sculpture Garden. 

Fisher Stolz
Fisher Stolz looks over the muzzle of "Hippocampus," one of numerous pieces that will be exhibited in Donovan Sculpture Garden.

Adding to the educational aspect of DSG, I am proud to say the other sculptures were created in the sculpture studio at Bradley University. Previously a People’s Choice award winner in Sculpture Walk Peoria, the life-size bronze “Prometheus I,” by Bradley graduate Liz Johnson, will be back—this time in a new setting in Donovan Sculpture Garden. Spring 2021 Bradley graduate Taylor Fawcett will be setting his just completed life-size bronze entitled “Sweet Like Lemonade” near the bike trail access in his first professional public art exhibition. 

“Surge,” by Bradley teacher Jaci Willis—currently on display in the Urbana Park District’s Wandell Sculpture Garden—will be sparkling in the park this summer. In promotion of DSG and the Northmoor Observatory at Donovan, Bradley graduate Jasen Nigg is setting a sculpture based on the phases of the moon at the Bonnie Noble Center at nearby Lakeview Park.

My large version of “Nike” will also be exhibited in Donovan Sculpture Garden. Nike was the winged goddess of victory in Greek mythology, and the realization of DSG is something I see as a victory for our community. The abstract sculpture includes curving “V” forms and a reference to wings in its design. The muzzle of “Hippocampus,” seen in an accompanying photo of my current work in progress, is a remnant from the grand version of “Nike,” creating a physical connection between the two which I enjoy.

It is fitting that this story about the Donovan Sculpture Garden follows the previous issue of Peoria Magazine, which featured an article about our parks by Emily Cahill, executive director of the oldest and largest park district in Illinois, and the wealth of compelling information about our recreational trails in an article by Mike Rucker. The Rock Island Greenway brushes up against Donovan Park. With shared visions of enriching communities and enhancing quality of life, the tapestry of benefits, as Mike brilliantly put it, creates a beautiful weaving. See you in the sculpture garden this summer! PM

Professor Fisher Stolz is the sculpture area head at Bradley University. Learn more about the Donovan Sculpture Garden at donovansculpturegarden.org.

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