Grounds for Sculpture: prepare to wander, be awed

There are many suburban getaways in Pennsylvania, but Hamilton, N.J., is home to Grounds for Sculpture, a visit that’s great for both your artsy significant other and five-year-old niece.

Located on the New Jersey state fairgrounds, Grounds for Sculpture is a park filled with realistic and abstract sculptures from artists around the world. About 15 larger-than-life sculptures are added to the site annually.

J. Seward Johnson, Jr., an American sculpture artist, came up with the concept for GFS. During the first half of the 20th century, the fairgrounds featured popular displays of needlework, canned goods and other arts relating to the home.

But by the 1970s, attendance and profits were dwindling. The grounds had to be sold. After passing through several different hands, Johnson finally began construction for GFS in 1989 and opened it to the public in 1992.

More than 240 sculptures sit on the 35-acre park, including works by Johnson. He casts bronze into extremely realistic human forms. While passing through the grounds, it’s easy to mistake his works of art for real people.

Abstract figures of brass, wood and other materials loom in between the trees. Some are as small as bicycles and others are as large as trucks.

The strongest piece is The Monet Bridge, an overpass set over a pond filled with lily pads. It is a re-creation of Claude Monet’s Japanese Bridge at Giverny.

In addition to manicured lawns and blooming flowers, you’ll find exotic plants and shrubbery from all over the world at the fairgrounds. Also roaming the gardens are brightly colored and white peacocks. At GFS, the artists seamlessly blend their art with the landscape.

After visiting the grounds twice, I’ve still only seen about half of the art. Plan to spend a lot of time wandering while at GFS.

The park has a rustic feeling because three buildings from the original fairgrounds are left standing, but have been renovated for safety precautions. These buildings are filled with even more sculptures, along with a café, museum and offices. The park is open year-round.

There were many couples walking arm-in-arm through the gardens. GFS is great for a cheap date because tickets are only $8 for students. And couples can even turn their cheap date into a dinner date – GFS added the full-service gourmet restaurant Rat’s in 1999.

Don’t worry, though, the site isn’t just for couples. It makes for a great getaway with your friends and family, too. The park is suitable for people of all ages and is wheelchair accessible.

Getting to GFS is very easy. By car, it is less than an hour away from Philadelphia. Or, if you want to be eco-friendly, GFS is across the street from the NJ Transit stop at Hamilton.

Ilana Miller can be reached at

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