By Christine Bolaños
In order to understand what makes the park special residents should first become familiar with its history. The Liberty Hill International Sculpture Park is the product of a 1976 event in which 25 sculptors from six countries arrived in Liberty Hill to make artistic history.
According to documentation provided by the Georgetown-based Williamson Museum, some of the artists arrived only with the clothes on their back and their sculpting tools.
For two months, Liberty Hill residents opened their homes to the artists, fed and cared for them as they created more than 20 monumental structures that are now housed at Liberty Hill Intermediate School.
The October 1976 event was the brain child of retired Air Force pilot Mel Fowler, who organized the first international sculpture symposium in the southwest.
“Its significance to Texas is immense. Not only was it the first international symposium in the Southwestern United States, it was the first and only documented instance of a sculpture park on school property,” said Williamson Museum Curator Ann Evans. “It’s significant not only for historical purposes but within the art world. Additionally, a unique example of what’s possible because they didn’t receive state funding. They received grants from local businesses and donations in kind of the stone they worked in.”
Like the event itself, each sculpture created during the two months was also special.
“Each piece is very different because you have artists from now seven or eight different countries. Artists that focus on different things. Some very realistic and some very surreal,” Evans said. “You have a wide range so I think that does make it more accessible to more people, especially to non-art people. Maybe it isn’t made to be understood. Some of the art pieces capture that part in art history – experimentation and things like that that were starting to happen.” The Williamson Museum displayed this important part of Liberty Hill’s history via an exhibit displayed at the facility for nearly a year. Photos from the exhibit are now available for viewing at Liberty Hill City Council Chambers.
Among the photos is that of American Brad Goldberg as he chisels his monumental ‘Guardian.’ The statue was carved from the same granite as the Texas State Capitol and stands as the park’s centerpiece.
The year after the symposium, Liberty Hill won the first Texas Arts Award for a city with a population less than 100,000. The moment is captured in one of the photos displayed where Mel Fowler and First Lady of Texas Janey Briscoe spend time together after Briscoe unveiled the bronze award.
There is an action shot of sparks flying as Sharon Corgan-Leeber of the United States, welds the aluminum ‘Liberty Couple’ that eventually stood guard to the entrance of the school district’s park.
The park was originally located in downtown Liberty Hill where it remained for more than a decade. However, it fell victim to vandalism and became worn down. As a result, Fowler, Gary Spivey, Don Cunningham and the Liberty Hill ISD, moved the sculptures to a new home at what was then Liberty Hill High School — now the Intermediate campus. The park was dedicated in May 1987 by Texas First Lady Rita Clements, and a few months later, Fowler passed away in Italy. According to the museum’s documentation, his ashes were scattered from a plane over the sculpture park.
More sculptures have been added over the last three decades including John VanCamp’s ‘Frozen Dance’, which was presented by the sculptor in 2014 and placed at Lions Foundation Park — the new permanent home for the sculpture park.
The goal of the Liberty Hill Development Foundation, which owns Lions Foundation Park, is to “put the sculptures along the walking path (about half have been moved) and create interpretation or a museum for the symposium near the park (possibly in the Liberty Hill Public Library, which is also located in Lions Foundation Park).”
Evans wants newcomers to know the treasure the sculpture park is to residents.
“They have a truly unique thing within their city and they should do all they can to help promote and preserve it because it is absolutely one of a kind. There are probably less than 100 sculpture parks from international symposiums worldwide,” Evans said. “There are probably only at most a couple dozen within the United States. That’s part of what makes this sculpture park unique is that it did bring in artists.”
City staff is striving to keep the legacy of the sculpture park alive.
“What the city and the foundation and the cultural committee are planning is a couple of things: moving the sculptures that aren’t on bases and have sidewalk connections to them that are currently on campus,” said Pix Howell, consultant for Liberty Hill’s Economic Development Corp. Board. He has been retained to create a plan for the sculpture park that includes a park design, a plan for relocating the artwork and a budget.
“We need to appraise sculptures and from that appraisal we can identify what insurance costs would be at the same time. At the same time a landscape architect is doing a plan for movement – basically a site plan that will include an estimate of cost for new bases, new sidewalk improvements, some trails because most of this is going to be moved over to the foundation property which is adjacent to the school,” Howell added.
City officials said the hope is to continue inviting international artists to add sculptures to the collection, upgrading the park’s website and regularly updating the park’s social media site Instagram account. A geotagging element could also be added to make the experience more interactive for visitors to the park.
“We’re hoping that we can find some benefactors to help the city deal with further development of sculptures and a lot of that will come from having a real estimate from the landscape architect of the cost of insuring (the sculptures) and the cost estimate for what it will take to move the ones that will be moved,” Howell said.
City officials are also considering video surveillance to keep an eye on the park and keep incidents such as vandalism from re-occurring. Howell said the city is working with the school district to develop a potential curriculum into students’ education that would include a segment on the sculpture park.
City officials said the sculpture park’s website, www.lhsculptures.com, will be enhanced with more graphics and photos as well as interactive history components.
According to EDC Director Kirk Clennan, the sculpture park is an integral part of the city’s master plan as far as the destination tourism element is concerned.
City officials want to get younger residents involved in not only preserving the sculpture park but strengthening what has the potential to be a vibrant art community in Liberty Hill.
For more information about the International Sculpture Park, visit www.lhsculptures.com.