Often overlooked sculpture garden a hidden campus gem

The Sculpture Garden at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center often goes underlooked as one of Vassar’s most serene settings. The garden is open yearround for visitors to walk through and enjoy. Photo By: Sam Pianello
The Sculpture Garden at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center often goes underlooked as one of Vassar’s most serene settings. The garden is open yearround for visitors to walk through and enjoy. Photo By: Sam Pianello
The Sculpture Garden at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center often goes underlooked as one of Vassar’s most serene settings. The garden is open yearround for visitors to walk through and enjoy. Photo By: Sam Pianello

Tucked away in the great labyrinth of paintings, drawings and long corridors that comprises the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is a mysterious and oft-forgotten hideaway filled with artwork and lush foliage: the Loeb’s sculpture garden.

Home to sculptures made by renowned artists such as Gaston Lachaise and Harriet Frishmuth and quaintly decorated with seating and cobbled walkways, the garden has a unique ambiance that is adaptable for its many purposes. Whether it be club events, art exhibitions or study groups, the sculpture garden facilitates various College happenings, and it provides students with a scenic space to relax.

The College had planned on having a sculpture garden as a part of the Loeb since its original design, but it wasn’t until 2011 that it got the redesign that made it as we know it today. James Mundy, the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Lehman Loeb Art Center said, “There was a sculpture garden planned for the building ever since its design. And Loeb Art Center was built between 1991 and 1993, so we had a garden and we had some sculptures in it, and about three years ago we had the opportunity to drastically renovate it and redesign it.”

Although the garden was usable in 1993, by 2011 it was in need of a renovation to attract more visitors. Mundy said, “Many of the trees had gotten too large and took over, and some had died, so it really needed some work. At that point we worked together with a landscape architect and came up with new works to put into the garden, and created some gravel paths to take you around through it, and spruced the place up to make it much more conducive to our visitors.”

Despite this redesign of the entire garden, the art center staff made sure to keep intact parts of the scenery that seemed unnecessary to change and would be counterproductive to do so. Mundy said, “The large, tri-colored beech tree in the garden has the wall constructed around it. That was preexisting to the construction of the building, it was such an important tree that we didn’t want to disturb it. At that point, the brick wall makes a little semicircle diversion around the beech tree.”

This natural scenery helps showcase the garden’s main attraction: the abundance of sculptural artworks that are scattered around it. Mundy said, “We have a large work by Frank Stella, and we also have a bronze relief by an early 20th century American artist named Gaston Lachaise, a fairly important Modernist figure in the early 20th century. Plus, we have a small fountain that was designed by Harriet Frishmuth. So it’s a nice range of work, all durable material: bronze, metal, stone, and one large ceramic piece.”

This eclectic mix of artwork means that there is a lot to be seen within the garden besides just the scenery, and everyone who visits the garden seems to find their own favorite piece.

Elizabeth Nogrady, the Andrew W. Mellon Coordinator of Academic Programs at the Loeb wrote in an interview through email, “I have always liked The Call of the Sea by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. The figure has a certain abandon that evokes the excitement of being on the ocean, and I’ve always thought her nudity and joyful expression create an amusing juxtaposition with the abstract sculptures in the garden.”

While students are permitted to mull around the Loeb at their leisure to view the artwork, the garden’s juxtaposition of nature and art makes it feel as though you are immersed in the art rather than just looking at it. Nogrady wrote, “The sculpture garden provides an opportunity to see original works of art interact with the natural forms and materials of the landscape. It also allows us to show more of our permanent collection during most of the year. Personally, I also think of it as a secret garden on campus and a great place for reflection or just to relax.”

Besides this creation of a unique viewing space, the garden also serves as a location for various special events related to the arts. Nogrady wrote, “The sculpture garden is home to a range of academic and social events for both the Vassar campus and the wider Poughkeepsie community. Coming up this semester are ‘Augsburg after Dark,’ a German-themed evening with music and refreshments organized by our Student Committee on the evening of October 3rd in conjunction with the current exhibition, ‘Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475-1540.’” She continued, “On Halloween at 12:30 p.m., Marianne Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources, will be giving an informal Artful Dodger talk on Toshiko Takaezu’s sculpture ‘Asa-Kiri,’ or ‘Morning Mist.’”

Although its main purpose is to create a space for the arts, the garden also hosts various other events run by students and faculty. Mundy said, “We have receptions for everything, [like] the yearbook distribution for the students, and the Student Art Committee also organizes events out there connected to our exhibitions. We have receptions for alumnae/i every spring, and it’s also just a nice place to take your lunch and laptop to relax.”

The fact that the sculpture garden is in an outside setting allows for the environment to interact with it in ways that can change how the artwork is perceived.

While the Loeb’s sculpture garden is, for the most part, a site that remains under the radar and unvisited by most students, those who work at the Loeb are well-aware of the spot. Joseph Bettman ‘17, who has worked in the Loeb, wrote in an interview through email, “The sculpture garden at the Loeb isn’t maintained in the winter, so every surface is gradually buried in snow. This is sort of an editing process, and passages of each sculpture either disappear or pop beneath the layer of white. It’s fascinating to see art interact with the elements.”

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