Seven Whimsical Southern Sculpture Gardens

Across the South, public art abounds in beautiful settings

Photo: Allyson Huntsman

At the Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Sculpture parks and gardens offer peaceful environments bubbling with sensory delights and, unlike most indoor museums, room to roam, unencumbered by four walls. These are seven venues worth exploring.

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River Gallery Sculpture Garden


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A petite path runs through this two-acre, verdant expanse set on a limestone bluff high above the Tennessee River in the Bluff View Art District. Celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, the garden is home to trails that wind alongside art such as the ever popular Icarus (by Russell Whiting), which seems to soar above water, and a pair of bronze fish (Source of Fish by Jim Collins) that hide in a mini cascade.

Brookgreen Gardens

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

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At this lovely rambling estate, the collection of figurative sculptures (animals, humans, and the mythological) by American artists numbers in the thousands. Visitors spend the day strolling paths past ponds, fountains, moss-draped live oaks, and formal gardens. “Beautiful fall colors come in November, enhancing the outdoor sculptures with brilliant backdrops,” curator Robin Salmon says. Often, foliage accents the man-made art, like Dancing Goat by Albert Laessle, a bronze positioned within a cluster of ornamental grasses.

The Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden


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On the grounds of the Birmingham Museum of Art, this three-tiered garden makes use of water and light. In the Red Mountain Garden Club Memorial Garden, Valerie Jaudon’s Blue Pools Courtyard consists of a pair of porcelain-tiled pools displaying meditative geometric patterns like a mandala. “Because most people visit the garden during the day, many folks don’t know just how beautiful it is at night, with lighting by Charles G. Stone, one of the world’s premier architectural lighting designers,” says director Graham C. Boettcher.

Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park


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Ursula von Rydingsvard’s sculpture, Ogromna, at the Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Snuggled on 164 acres that blanket the campus of the North Carolina Museum of Art, this sculpture park is dotted with thirty-some works by such notables as Roxy Paine and Henry Moore. Visitors access the artistry by meandering along any of the trails slicing through fields and forests. A rust-colored trio of massive ellipses (Gyre by Thomas Sayre) plays off different perspectives: From one angle they appear as a spiral, from another, as concentric circles.

Robert T. Webb Sculpture Garden

Dalton, Georgia

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Three distinct gardens on the Creative Arts Guild campus provide a backdrop for more than sixty abstract and figurative sculptures, including Susan Rankin’s Standing Grove, where hand-blown glass rings “grow” like iridescent flowers on stems waving in the wind. “This autumn, six new works will be installed, including El Condominio (by Mexican artist Marysole Wörnor Baz), with several figures fabricated from railroad spikes,” curator Robert Webb says.

The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden


photo: Allyson Huntsman
In the Cullen Sculpture Garden.

In the middle of Houston’s museum district, this oasis of a garden sits alongside the Museum of Fine Arts, offering a serene spot in which to view works by such famed artists as Frank Stella and Henri Matisse as well as Houston artist Joseph Havel. Noted Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Hoguchi designed the garden, where timber bamboo, Asian jasmine, and other flowers and foliage complement the art. Exhaling Pearls, a bronze by Havel cast from a ten-foot-long frayed rope and a pair of paper lanterns, is one of many exuberant sculptures.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden 

New Orleans

photo: Richard Sexton
Sinbad (Tony Cragg), Schädel/ Skull (Katharina Fritsch), and ind Sculpture V (Yinka Shonibare) at the newly expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

Set in City Park beside the New Orleans Museum of Art, this lush, twelve-acre garden with its pair of expansive lagoons is threaded with paths leading to almost one hundred sculptures. Karma (by Do Ho Suh) resembles a soaring set of vertebrae but is actually a series of squatting human figures made of brushed stainless steel. The garden celebrates its twentieth anniversary this November, with musical performances, artist talks, and on November 10, a gala.