Griffis Sculpture Park

(This column was first published in the June 29, 1998 Buffalo News.)

    Whenever I have driven down Route 219 past Springville toward Salamanca I've noticed the signs that point up Ahrens Road to the Griffis Sculpture Park. Although I appreciate art and wander through the Albright-Knox Art Gallery whenever I can, I never thought to "waste" time at this collection of what I thought of disdainfully as "bumpkin art."

    Finally a few weeks ago with Bruce Miller's encouragement we visited the park and I write now to admit how terribly wrong I was. Spread out over 400 acres in two separate exhibits we have a genuine regional treasure, to my mind only outclassed by our natural wonders -- Niagara Falls and the Letchworth gorge.

    Consider just two of the many views at the park.

    At the East Hill Site stand with us at the foot of the hill near the giraffe and look up across the field at the group of twenty foot tall abstract figures now silhouetted against the sky. There is no need to travel thousands of miles across the Pacific to visit Easter Island. This is just as impressive -- and in the same way. The Picasso-like representations demand thoughtful analysis and a deep level of appreciation.

    Now at South Hill join us at the Fountain Pond where live barnyard geese swim among the oversized aluminum bathers. The figures bring to mind in their massive strength and proportions Michelangelo's sculptures.

    What I find so remarkable about these exhibits is that there is something here for everyone. All must be impressed by the sheer quantity and quality of the over two hundred figures -- it would take me a lifetime to construct just one of them. Many would appreciate the humorous aspect of the figures -- the outlandish caricatures, the sense of burlesque. And children of all ages will find among the figures much to entertain them -- best of all the Castle Tower whose intricate stairways offer dozens of paths to the top. With no one around to giggle at us, we climbed up ourselves to enjoy yet another view of the broad valley below.

    Okay, so it is a splendid display, but why write about it in a nature column? I suggest that there are two reasons to do so.

    First, there are many statues of animals, insects and birds. Among them are representations of a turtle, dragonfly, snake, wasp, crab, spider, caddisfly, ant, butterfly, praying mantis and flying geese. And best of all that giraffe. Most of us would have had it face out away from the woods so that we could observe it in its full majesty. Here instead we see it from behind reaching its head into the treetops as if to feed. We have to walk beneath it into those woods and look back to gain a frontal perspective.

    More important, the parks are sanctuaries where many living birds, animals and wildflowers are to be found among the abstractions. On the day we visited a beautiful bluebird posed on the outstretched hand of one of the sculptures, its rich coloring most impressive when it flew off across the meadow. Everywhere wild raspberry canes and strawberry blossoms promised later delights.  Canada geese paddled about the pond ringed with crane-like figures. Butterflies plied the fields. The nearby woods rang with the calls of indigo buntings and yellow warblers. Purple and white dame's rocket spires gave color to the pasture edges. And a woodchuck hunched off to dive into its den.

    I salute the major artist, Larry Griffis, and the Ashford Hollow Foundation for providing this remarkable sculpture park which is free to the public.

    And I apologize for my earlier snobbish attitude.