Pieces of Work

New International Sculpture Garden at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens Brings Cultures and People Together

Article Kris Koederitz Melcher | Photography Courtesy Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park

Children with their Door Keys, The President and the Empress, The Chinese Pioneer in the U.S., and Michael Jackson: These are just some of the sculptures recently unveiled at the new International Sculpture Garden (ISG) being constructed at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens.

Located at 8909 W. 179th Street, the 300-acre Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens was founded to keep the city at the forefront of environmental and ecological issues. A leader of environmentally sound community development, the Arboretum is an educational, recreational, and cultural resource for the Kansas City region. It offers homeowners, landscapers and arborists an opportunity to encounter a wide variety of hybrid trees and shrubs native to this area. About 85 percent of the arboretum is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of eight natural ecosystems, and the remaining area includes traditional botanical gardens, trails, the Visitors Center and maintenance facilities. It is also now home to the first sculpture garden in Overland Park.

For years, the City of Overland Park and the Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park had a concept to create a sculpture garden, but funding was an issue. When internationally known sculptor Kwan Wu, who emigrated from China and now lives in Olathe, approached the Foundation with the possibility of artists donating sculpture and the Chinese government helping to cover shipping costs, the concept of a sculpture garden went from being a dream to a reality. Ash Grove Charitable Foundation made a grant to help cover the installation costs, the City of Overland Park provided the installation labor, and the Arts & Recreation Foundation did all of the leg work to get the sculptures to the Arboretum. The China-U.S. Sculpture Garden committee, which has a local component and a China component, also helped with the project.

“Kwan Wu made the China-U.S. Sculpture Garden a reality,” says Teresa Stohs, executive director of the Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park. “It was a real team effort, but Wu is definitely the superstar.”

Wu has lived in Olathe for many years and also had a studio in Windmill Square for several years. His art can be seen throughout much of the metropolitan area, including the George Brett sculpture outside Kauffman Stadium, the William F. Strang statue in downtown Overland Park, a Bill of Rights statue at the federal courthouse in Kansas City, a statue in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a seven-foot statue of an American Indian woman at Lenexa City Hall, and a nine-foot statue of basketball legend “Phog” Allen at the University of Kansas. For many years, when thinking about where to put such a sculpture garden, Wu thought about the coasts, but felt the sculpture garden in the Midwest would provide the greatest impact. The beauty of the Arboretum combined with the reputation of the City of Overland Park and the enthusiasm of the Arts & Recreation Foundation made selecting the Arboretum a natural choice.

“Our purpose is to provide visitors an opportunity to commune with nature, enjoy a cultural exchange, and be introduced to new arts experiences,” says Stoh. “The China-U.S. Sculpture Garden, the first phase of the International Sculpture Garden, is more than sculpture. It represents a cultural exchange. The purpose of this garden is to honor our uniqueness and celebrate our sameness.”

Eleven pieces, created and donated by Chinese artists including Wu, were part of the unveiling and dedication last November. The sculptures, most of which are bronze with a few done in stainless steel, are part of a one mile loop within the Arboretum. The pieces are: Accept or Reject and Children with Their Door Keys by Yu Chang, Michael Jackson and Swimming Girl by Lu Zhengkang, The Chinese Pioneer in the U.S. and The Village Boys by Yang Xuejun, The Same Generation and Man and Nature—New Born by Pan Fen, Breeze by Zhong Zhiyuan, and The President and the Empress and The East and the West—The Same Man by Wu.

The East and the West—The Same Man symbolizes the theme of being the same. It depicts a man in two halves, with one half a warrior and one half a Roman soldier. The two halves are joined in the middle with an olive branch, the symbol of peace. In addition to these 11 pieces, the goal is to have approximately 100 pieces of sculpture, many of them monumental size. The China-U.S. Sculpture Garden portion will feature all Chinese sculptures, but artists from all over the world will be showcased in the ISG. It is uncertain yet if sculptures from specific countries will be grouped all together or intermingled. The sculptures will include a variety of materials designed to withstand the element.

The ISG will be phased in over a number of years and will be open to the public once it is complete. Additionally, there will be a variety of educational programs and cultural experiences presented each year.

“The International Sculpture Garden presents a glimpse of the world in our own backyard. It gives our community and visitors who come here, a firsthand experience to become part of art and part of nature, resulting in a unique experience for each one,” says Stoh. “With the International Sculpture Garden, we have a unique opportunity to open doors and embrace our global world in a way that will bring special meaning to each of us individually.

Sculpture is a beautiful complement to nature and we believe our community is ready to embrace international art.” LL


Admission to the Arboretum is free and it is open every day from 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m., April 10-September 30,
and 8 a.m.-5 p.m., October 1-April 9. For more information call 913.685.3604 or visit OPKansas.org.