Sculptures in Spring Lake Capture Humanity

By Lauren Wanko

Young boys fly a kite, across the street a woman carries a bag of groceries through Spring Lake while a police officer writes a parking ticket. The world famous artist Seward Johnson brings the familiar from his Celebrating the Familiar series to life along the streets of this seaside community.

“If you’re caught talking to one of my pieces it’s a little embarrassing and so I try to make it as embarrassing as it can be,” Johnson jokes.

The 86-year-old artist credits his wife with giving him the idea of becoming a sculptor.

“To me capturing humanity is the essence of what art’s about,” he said. “When I started in the 60s, someone doing people was absurd, for public, and so I became what I would call a public artist and it worked in every country. It’s amazing, humanity is humanity.”

These bronze pieces begin as maquettes before they are enlarged to life size. A seamstress dresses the pieces. The clothes are hardened with resin.

“They would make a rubber mold of the life-size sculpture which would be in plasteline and then they would cast it first in plaster so it was harder. They do a wax-positive, which is only a quarter of an inch thick, and that wax has a ceramic shell mold made around it on the outside and a core for the inside. Then they put it in a furnace and it melts all the wax out and they pour molten metal in place of the wax and then they let it harden. Then they break off the cast and then weld the parts together,” said Johnson.

The Spring Lake Business Improvement District wanted to bring art and visitors into the community. Resident Syd Whalley says now strangers aren’t passing each other by as quickly.

“It’s a very friendly town, but people go about their business. Now they’re stopping and interacting with each other,” Whalley said.

After a year of planning, 14 sculptures arrived in September. The exhibit is funded by private donations and contributions from several community organizations.

“A couple of people have come out and said it was raining one day and they see this crazy person out in the rain trying to paint and couldn’t figure out why he was out there painting and it was one of our sculpture, so very, very funny,” said Dawn McDonough Spring Lake Business Improvement District executive director.

The Spring Lake Business Improvement District says the exhibit is attracting people from all over New Jersey and other states, too, including New York and Pennsylvania. Residents here in town are also volunteering their time by offering free guided tours.

A few blocks from this artist a couple embraces, not wanting to let go.

“It was my wife and me,” Johnson said.

Nearby a young man is caught daydreaming. This piece is called Far Out.

“It probably was a self portrait because far, I mean, I saw myself as far out,” the artist said.

A woman sits on a bench and writes a to-do list while someone else takes pictures. Johnson says he celebrates the individuality of each individual and he enjoys making people laugh, especially at themselves.

“To me, accomplishment is wonderful but only if it provides fun,” he said.

Johnson’s exhibit will be in Spring Lake until Jan. 2.

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