August 2007 Issue
Hamilton, City of Sculpture
The city northeast of Cincinnati is a center for large-scale art.
With its bicentennial on the horizon, what legacy would Hamilton's celebration leave behind?
That was the challenge facing the southwestern Ohio city on the run-up to its big birthday in 1991. After discussions with a consultant, city leaders decided to follow their muse: a concerted plan to burnish the city's image and lure new business with fine arts.
First, community members funded the $5 million Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Hamilton businessman Harry Wilks expanded the hilltop that would become his 265-acre Pyramid Hill sculpture park. Citizens commissioned so much public art that Governor Bob Taft proclaimed Hamilton "City of Sculpture" in 2000. Since, more than 15 pieces, mostly figurative bronzes, have peopled the streets of Hamilton.
Two new pieces are arriving this summer. Riverside Mallards by Ronnie Wells, a 7-foot wildlife sculpture, will anchor the northwest end of the new High-Main Bridge over the Great Miami River. Glenna Goodacre, who created the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C., will bring six bronze figures to lounge and hug each other around a serpentine brick wall on the bridge's south side.
The new pieces join such icons as Hebe, Nymph of Streams and Brooks, first set in 1890 as a drinking fountain for people and animals. After decades in someone's back yard, Hebe was restored and reinstalled on High Street.
Who can forget Billy Yank, the Civil War soldier triumphant atop the 1906 Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument? He's in the city emblem, on its welcome signs and emblazoned on its police squad cars.
And, finally, the city's namesake has his own statue. Artist Kristen Visbal immortalized Alexander Hamilton in The American Cape, a 2004 bronze in which his flamboyant cape morphs into an American flag.
The $230,000 project was a joint commission by Historic Hamilton and Hamilton, Ohio, City of Sculpture, Inc. a nonprofit volunteer group that raises funds to buy sculpture, searches for artists and helps other groups buy more public art. The organization sponsors at least one fundraiser a year, such as IceFest, to buy more pieces.
"Now we want to give the community a wider variety of sculptures," says president Sue Samoviski of the representational work. "We want to become the place that really well-known artists want to have their sculpture."
This summer, the group's latest fund-raising brainstorm is parked all over Hamilton — dozens of benches painted, decorated and dreamed up by local artists. And the project title in this capital of Butler County? County Seat, of course.