The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/1998-07-31/523676/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, July 31, 1998, Columns



Ann Merck's Western Vision looks toward the east in the Liberty Hill International Sculpture Garden. Artist Mel Fowler had a studio in the oldest building on Main Street and gathered the art work for the high school lawn.

photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

The International Sculpture Park on the grounds of Liberty Hill High School exudes an aura, or else it was the July sun. The creativity will give you a chill as you walk among the 26 extraordinary pieces of art that look almost out of place next to the semi-modern, one-story, no-frills schoolhouse.

The park began as an American Bicentennial project organized by San Antonio native and sculptor Walter Melville "Mel" Fowler as the International Sculpture Symposium. In 1976, Fowler invited 25 sculptors from six countries to come to Liberty Hill to live and work for up to two months. Residents of the tiny hamlet northwest of Austin and 14 miles west of Georgetown off TX29 opened their homes to the artists. The entire project was financed by the artists and community volunteers without any federal or state money.

At first, the rock, iron, and cement pieces rested where many of them were built - in the field behind Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Liberty Hill. In 1987, with the fundraising help of the Liberty Hill Garden Club, the Liberty Hill Cultural Council, an Austin architectural firm, and dozens of volunteers, the sculptures were moved to the high school grounds.

Fowler retired from the U.S. Air Force as a 30-year veteran to follow his love of art as a sculptor. In 1973, he had opened studios in Liberty Hill and Pomezzana, Italy. A highly decorated pilot, Fowler fought in three wars beginning with service in the Royal Canadian Air Force at the beginning of World War II.

Founder of the Texas Society of Sculptures, Fowler's art gained worldwide recognition with gallery and museum exhibitions. His art ranged from tabletop and wall-mounted pieces to statues and monuments and was noted for his philosophy of negative space. The free-flowing style of his work conveys not only beauty, but a message. For instance, one of his two pieces in the park, The Libertarian, was designed to represent freedom of speech, religion, and press. The International Sculpture Symposium that created the sculpture park was Fowler's idea for getting accomplished artists together to exchange ideas and to get to know each other on a personal level.

The sculpture garden opened a few months before Fowler's death in 1987. At the time of the park's dedication he told a local reporter: "If I had a thousand different choices where to put them, this would've been my first choice, to put it on the campus of a school. It's the only high school in the world with an international sculpture park." Fowler's ashes were scattered over the park from a vintage biplane.

The art in the park is as varied as the artists who designed and built the pieces. There is a statue that looks like a memorial from a cemetery and abstract pieces that would be at home in any modern art collection. The artists' choices of material also varies, from cut metal figures of a man and woman to stone.

Small metal tags on each piece identify the title of the art work and the artist. Welcoming visitors to the park is Guardian, the 22-foot, totem pole-like creation of Dallas artist Brad Goldberg. Also dominating the landscape is a huge piece called Frozen Motion that looks like a large stone bullet about to enter six pieces of folding steel. If your finger follows the smooth curving edges of Mobius No.7 by the late Delores Cumley of Austin, then the edges will take you back to your starting point.

Sidewalks circle the art pieces with park benches shaded by a stand of live oak trees. What a wonderful blessing and gift these rural students have by having such a collection of world-class art next to their school.


Coming up this weekend...

Lava Fest honors the ancient volcano that McKinney Falls State Park southeast of Austin sits on with a squad of buffalo soldiers, a Choctaw storyteller, live animals, live music, and much more, Aug. 1. 243-1643.

Firemen's Fiesta in Brenham at the Firemen's Training Center includes barbecue dinner, cookoff, games, and live music, July 31-Aug. 2. 888/873-6426.

International Apple Festival in Medina draws attention to Texas' largest apple-growing region with orchard tours and lots of apple foods, Aug. 1. You can't get a fresher apple this time of year. 830/589-7224.

Schulenburg Festival combines country & western and Tejano music for a small-town party at Wolter's Park, July 31-Aug. 2. 409/743-4514.

Art Fair in Salado at Pace Memorial Park exhibits local artists' wares, Aug. 1-2. 254/947-5040.

Market Days at Lions Field in Wimberley attracts 400 garage sale dealers and thousands of shoppers, Aug.1. 512/847-2201.

Underwater Film Making, a slide show, will be presented by writer/producer Paul Cater Deaton at REI's store at 9901 Capital of Texas Hwy., Aug. 6. 343-5550.


Coming up...

Roy B. Inks Birthday Celebration at Inks Lake State Park honors the man who helped build the Highland Lakes with special outdoor activities and an open house, Aug. 5. 512/793-2223.

Eyeopeners Mural Tour sponsored by the Orange Show in Houston takes visitors on a bus tour of some of the city's most unusual outdoor folk art, Aug. 9. 713/926-6368.

New admission policies at Hueco Tanks State Natural Area outside of El Paso have changed the park to a limited access area with all visitors required to make reservations and attend a brief orientation before entering the park. The park's archeological sites and primitive rock art have been threatened by vandalism, necessitating the change. 915/566-6441.

Journey to Fredericksburg's History gives visitors two nights of accommodations and tours of Texas-German historical sites with the Gästehaus Schmidt Reservation Service, Sept. 15-17. 830/997-5612 or http://www.ktc.com/gschmidt

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