Three new pieces depicting the beauty of nature and wildlife now decorate the Rotary Sculpture Garden at Joplin’s Mercy Park in an ongoing effort to bring public art to the community.
A work crew on Thursday used forklifts and harnesses to place the sculptures atop their sandstone bases in the garden, which is a joint project of the Rotary Club of Joplin and the Joplin Daybreak Rotary.
John Kinkade and his team with JK Designs Fine Art Consulting, of Loveland, Colorado, have now installed all 12 of the park's sculptures over the past two years. The first nine pieces were installed more than a year ago.
The addition of the newest three sculptures had been stalled since April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Bob Headlee, Rotary Sculpture Garden chairman.
“We kept postponing this thinking we would get past all of this, and we didn’t know when that would happen, so we’re doing it,” he said. “This is our second year. The whole concept of this is to provide a peaceful location, and the sculptures just add to the garden. We really want this to be a destination point, not just for the city but the surrounding area.”
“Bamboo,” by artist Tim Cotterill, depicts a red tree frog hanging on a bamboo branch. It is the tallest sculpture, standing at 12 feet, and weighs 400 pounds. It also was the first sculpture given by a nonlocal donor: Dr. Phillip A. Abston, of Greeley, Colorado. The installation was paid by locals Sharon and Lance Beshore and Harry M. Cornell Jr.
“Lift Her With Butterflies,” by artist Angela Mia De La Vega, features a colorful swarm of butterflies that’s picking up a young girl with her hands stretched forward. This is the second sculpture in the Rotary Garden by the artist, following “Joyful Empowerment.” The statue is 69 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The Beshores and Cornell are the donors.
“Go Escargot,” by artist Gary Lee Price, depicts a child riding on the shell of a snail. It’s 52 inches tall and 32 inches wide. The Beshores are the donors.
“I do love public art, and I think it’s important for the community to get to experience this in their everyday lives,” Sharon Beshore said.
Margot Burlingame, of Joplin, couldn’t help but snap a few photos of the new sculptures while walking her dog, Baxter, in Mercy Park on Thursday afternoon.
“I have so many pictures of him (Baxter) here,” Burlingame said. “He loves the park as much as I do. I like that they keep adding more sculptures, and I had no idea they were going to do that.”
Headlee said the Rotary groups were inspired to bring a public art garden to Joplin after falling in love with the Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, which has more than 140 bronze sculptures on permanent display in an outdoor setting.
“Every time we’d go out to Colorado to visit my son and his wife, we’d end up going to this sculpture garden,” Headlee said. “We knew we had to do something like this in Joplin.”
The local Rotarians got permission from city officials to create a garden in Mercy Park, the site of the former St. John's Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed by the 2011 tornado. All of the artwork is donated, and the donors cover the cost of installation. Most pieces were donated by Cornell, the former president and CEO of Leggett & Platt Inc. who moved several sculptures from his property to the garden.
“There’s a lot of history here obviously with this park, but this was just natural after the tornado that we do the garden here,” Headlee said. “Fortunately, the city had already put in all of the pathways and the pond. The base was here. We told the city it would cost them nothing, and they loved the concept. The sculptures are our property, and we take care of them while the city takes care of the park maintenance. Our intent is to keep adding more sculptures.”
Near the end of the year, the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau plans to add the garden in a tourist brochure, director Patrick Tuttle said. The goal is to have the new guide published by the spring to help promote and raise funds for the sculpture garden.
“The brochure will be twofold,” he said. “There will be an information piece on the garden, as well as a donation piece to help grow the garden. Then we’re going to work more closely with the various artists and connect with them and their work.”
For more information, visit www.rotarysculpturegarden.org.