A Curmudgeon and the Taconic Sculpture Garden

If you’ve ever been a passenger cruising along the Taconic State Parkway (better known to as Deer Dodge Highway) then you’ve seen a giant’s head on top of a hill just outside Chatham. That head is the roadside mascot for the Taconic Sculpture Park.

On Sunday, we took a detour from our destination — Beebe Hill State Forest — to take a stroll through the Park. Once you find the gravel Stever Hill Road, then you will find that park. It’s at the very end.

When we arrived we parked on the grass, per the sign, and were soon greeted by the curmudgeonly sculptor, Mr. Kanwit. He asked where we were coming from, to which I replied “Spencertown”. I said we had met a chicken that was pecking around the entrance to the only store in town.

“Did the chicken tell you about this place?” he asked.

“Yes, the chicken recommended we check out the Taconic Sculpture Park,” I said.

“And you listened to a chicken?”

“Of course we listened to the chicken, it’s not every day you meet a talking chicken,” I replied. “They’re rare.”

After this interaction, we strolled passed his castle-like home into his land of the fantastic. Scattered amidst a field of flowering Queen Anne’s lace, fleabane, and birdsfoot trefoil we discovered fantastic: beasts, titillating goddesses and giants’ heads — more erotic than evocative. One is, of course, obligated to enter the giant’s head and climb to the top for Parkway vista.

If you make it to Taconic, don’t expect a land of monumental art like Omi or Storm King, or the motley menagerie of thigh-high chainsaw art animals one might find along an Adirondacks roadside; this is more a sculpture-strewn front lawn of a working artist’s residence. In fact, there was half-finished monumental eye, clearly in the process of creation,. With it peering down the driveway at all comers, I couldn’t help but think it might be intended to ward off art enthusiasts.

In hindsight, it was less the art on stage that struck me than what we found in the woods just beyond. There, Kanwit — or some other creative relative — had carved gravestones with likenesses of the relatives I assume are buried below. At a time when so many memorials are adorned with mass-market motifs, the authenticity of finding hand-hewn memorials gave the garden the poignancy that I’d failed to find amidst the more conspicuous sculptures.

There is a $10-per-vehicle fee and the park closes at 5pm, but this is private property so, so be warned that you are only allowed on the property through the goodwill of the Kanwits. If you’re interested, some of the sculptures may be for sale.

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ianrbenjamin

history, architecture, etymology

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