Local Artist Re-Imagines her Grandparent’s Farm.
What’s free, open 365 days a year from dawn to dusk, has both natural beauty and beauty made by human hands, and is just six miles from downtown Frankfort off Highway 127?
If you don’t already know the answer, this Sunday might be a good time for a visit to the Josephine Sculpture Park as they put on their annual Fall Arts Festival. Melanie VanHouten, who named the park after her grandmother Josephine, is the creative force behind the venue that opened in September 2009.
She’s quick to add that she has had a lot of help. “I got lucky when I married B.J. The family is integral to this. I couldn’t do this by myself. I think they like to do it,” said VanHouten, laughing along with family member and volunteer Cindy Hampton.
There’s no doubt the park is a labor of love. “I always loved this place,” shares VanHouten, thinking back on her childhood visits to her grandparent’s farm, the property on which the park now sits. “When I was a kid after breakfast Granny would just let me go,” she remembers. “I would explore and find treasures. It was a wonderland.”
VanHouten lived in thirty different houses before she went to graduate school so the farm held special meaning as a home place, a feeling made even stronger when her grandmother suddenly passed at age sixty-four. “I wanted to share with my community the things that she had shared with me. It was a gift and I didn’t want it to just end. It took me two decades to figure that out.”
During those two decades VanHouten had been busy. She received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from UK and then went on to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, eventually becoming a professor. While there, she discovered Franconia Sculpture Park.
“It was an active, live, palpable experience, not a static collection of art like you might find in a museum. There was interaction between artists doing work and visitors. It was a place for people to connect with one another. I loved that about it.”
The experience planted a seed.
“I was in a tenure track position at the largest woman’s college in the United States teaching sculpture and running my own program. But all of our family was here and it was just time for us to come home.”
VanHouten returned to Frankfort in 2008 and, modeling the park after Franconia, began turning her grandparent’s farm into what would become Josephine Sculpture Park.
The goal was to have ten sculptures when they opened. They wound up having sixteen. That number has grown to around fifty today and, with twenty acres, there’s room for plenty more.
VanHouten took me on a tour of the park; an area that’s much larger than it seems at first glance. When you go, make sure to venture out from the parking lot area. There are many works of art to enjoy that you won’t see unless you explore!
The Fall Arts Festival has grown too. About three hundred came the first year. This past Sunday that number was two thousand five hundred, pus another three hundred in volunteers!
“We were thrilled with the turnout and the whole day was a great event for our community. We'd like to thank everyone who volunteered, performed, created art, shared their time and talent and those who came out to enjoy the day,” said VanHouten.
If you missed out on the fun, treat yourself, and stop by for a visit one day soon. The park is a great park to enjoy art and the outdoors at the same time!