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Jopsephine Sculpture Park
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Free FunEnjoy free, self-guided tours at the park. It is open every day from dusk until dawn
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Hot Metal PourArtists fire up the furnace and help guests create their own piece of metal artwork during the annual JSP Fall Festival
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Creative ConservationistArtist and JSP co-founder Melanie VanHouten
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Jopsephine Sculpture Park
By Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley
Photos by Wales Hunter
“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his environment.”
— D.H. Lawrence
Who says you need four walls to showcase the results of artists’ creativity? Melanie VanHouten has converted her family’s 20 acres of Frankfort farmland into a giant museum known as the Josephine Sculpture Park.
“I grew up on this farm,” VanHouten said. “My grandmother owned this farm. I’ve always been very connected to this place. My whole career really has been about this place and the experiences I had here as a child.”
Named for her grandmother, the Josephine Sculpture Park features about two dozen sculptures—some whimsical, some abstract, some traditional—from artists around the world. But like the seasons to which the sculptures are vulnerable, the works always change.
“Nothing is permanent,” VanHouten said. “There will be something new and probably something gone. That keeps it exciting, too, because it’s always changing.”
It also encourages visitors to keep coming back. And, by all means, bring the children and, unlike in an enclosed museum, let them roam free! “Kids can feel the sculptures, they can yell, they can pick flowers … they can be what they naturally want to be out here,” she said.
Which is exactly how VanHouten spent her childhood days on that same land, then a working farm. She said of her grandmother: “She was a huge inspiration to me because she was this very open-minded, compassionate, hard-working, smart woman. I felt like she really got me. She would always collect stickers for me, so I had my own desk in her office. She was doing the books for the business, and I was making collages.”
The idea to convert the family farm was sparked in VanHouten’s mind when she moved to Minneapolis to pursue her master’s degree in fine art. She visited the Franconia Sculpture Park, where she later became a volunteer and contributing artist. “That place was built on an old farm,” she said. “It was amazing. It had 60 sculptures out there. Artists were working there at the time … from all over the world. It had all this energy … This is what art is really all about—communication and bringing people together.”
That initial spark became a burning inspiration to save her grandparents’ farm and use it as a creative showplace. The plan was for that transformation to take place later in life, when she and her husband, William Duvall, retired. Both had great jobs and close friends in Minnesota. But the call of Kentucky kept sounding.
So they packed up and moved home in 2008 and “started this crazy dream.” VanHouten and Duvall gave themselves a year to get the old homestead in shape, and by 2009, the Josephine Sculpture Park was ready. “Mostly we just had to clean it up. No one in the family had lived out here for quite some time, and it had become neglected, with fencerows falling over and garbage everywhere. It was really sad,” VanHouten recalled.
“A lot of that junk we found [on the property] has been useful in some ways … We collected in an organized fashion any metal we found. Artists have come out to the park to make use of those treasures,” she said. “We’re creating a place where artists can experiment and work really big here. The sky’s literally the limit.”
Now the junk-transformed-into-artistic-treasures are dispersed through flower fields and walking paths for anyone to come out and enjoy. VanHouten and Duvall say their goal is to make the park welcoming and inclusive regardless of one’s art expertise. “It’s here for them,” she said. “That’s why we’re really committed to [the park] remaining free and open every day.”
So what would her grandparents say about the use of their old land? VanHouten said her hard-working grandfather would likely pat her on the back and praise her work ethic. As for Josephine, well, she probably wouldn’t be surprised at all.
“My grandmother was my biggest fan, and she was always encouraging my artistic endeavors,” VanHouten said. “I think she would be really excited that I came up with this really huge dream and that I’m working my tail off to make it happen. I think she would be really proud of that.”
Hands-on Festival Fun
Each September, Melanie VanHouten and her husband, William Duvall, pull out all the stops for their guests at the Josephine Sculpture Park’s Fall Arts Festival. A continuation of their 2009 grand opening festival, the first fall festival was held in 2010 and has grown into a popular annual event with activities for kids young and old.
This year’s festival—which will include art demonstrations and workshops, and the return of the popular “bubble truck”—takes place on Sept. 16 at the Frankfort park. “We have live music throughout the day, and food from local restaurants will be available,” VanHouten said.
Last year’s big hit with visitors is returning this year. For a fee of $30, visitors can take part in the Hot Metal Pour. Artists from the traveling foundry of the Sculpture Trail Outdoor Museum, an Indiana venue similar to the JSP, will fire up the furnace and help guests create their own piece of metal artwork.
“There will also be free arts activities for the kids. There’s a ton of stuff that’s free, that’s not going to cost families anything,” VanHouten said. You can even bring your own food. “Bring a picnic. That’s one of the big things—we want the park to be accessible to everyone.”