A Walk Through Clinton County’s Art Parks
Art and nature collide in tucked away parks throughout Clinton County. At the Betty Little Arts Park, Juniper Sculpture Park and the Stone Ledge Sculpture Garden, visitors stroll through nature, admiring creations by talented artists.
Betty Little Arts Park
The Betty Little Arts Park sits between Margaret Street and Durkee Street, showcasing sculptures crafted by North Country artists. The park, funded by the New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative, was named after Sen. Betty Little to commemorate her constant support for the arts.
“We need art in our lives because it has the ability to trigger reflection, as this place will, generate empathy, create dialogue and to initiate new ideas,” Little said at the grand opening ceremony in September 2021. “It really helps us to be human.”
A colorful flower bouquet sculpture sits at the center of the park. Smaller bright sculptures populate the city lot. Brown benches are scattered around for viewers to relax and soak in the artwork. In warm weather, children jump joyfully on the splash pad in the corner.
Artist Andrew McGill was eager to craft a sculpture for the new city attraction after seeing a call for artists in a local newspaper. The staff was looking for an engaging work of art that challenges the usual “look don’t touch” motto frequently touted in fine arts.
“Art, and sculpting in general, is always so stoic, and you’re supposed to view it from afar. You’re never really invited to look with your hands,” McGill said.
His interactive cactus has spring door stoppers scattered up and down, resembling spikes. Parents and kids alike can’t help but pluck them. Additionally, the base of the cactus is surrounded by sand, another element kids can play with.
Usually a prickly cactus is viewed from a distance, much like artwork, protected from curious hands. But McGill’s cactus is different from the rest: it creates a participatory experience.
Juniper Sculpture Park
Gradually winding footpaths lead to an open view of a rustic sculpture. A hand reaches out, trying to break through the center of a heavy door it is trapped behind. The eye-catching piece towers over viewers who can’t help but stop and contemplate its message.
Continuing through stands of juniper trees, the Juniper Sculpture Park’s mile-long loop trail immerses visitors in nature and presents sculptures created by local artists.
Owner Sarah Brown bought the land in 2013, but the idea of a sculpture park didn’t develop until later on.
Brown thought about selling the land to friends to build a house or make a solar farm. She knew she wanted to do something unique and productive with the land. She read an article about suburbs of the future that work with nature instead of plowing it down. This sparked the idea of protecting the 40 acres of woodland and dotting it with sculptures.
Brown went back to school to get her BFA at SUNY Plattsburgh in 2016. There, she met other compelling student artists like Jon Forrence, who now has a sculpture in the park. Drew Goerlitz, their professor, was the first to have a sculpture installed, officially starting the park.
Goerlitz also helped Brown make connections with international artists, which brought in work from South America and Europe. These pieces lend new perspectives, adding to those of local artists.
Nine sculptures pepper the trails of the property. Some are for sale, while others will permanently stay stationed in the park.
The abstract sculptures vary in size. Some are tall, easily catching visitors’ attention. Others are smaller, blending with the natural environment.
Brown is pleased with the feedback she has received from neighbors who walk around the park after dinner with their children. The outdoor art experience has also been dog-approved, as Brown’s six dogs enjoy roaming around the area.
The best time to visit Juniper Sculpture Park is in the evenings of the summer months when the purple wildflowers are vibrant and the trails are cushioned with soft grass.
“We’re integrating learning about Mother Nature as well as art and really we’re fitting the sculptures into the right place within Mother Nature. Whether it’s trees or flowers, or fields or forest,” Brown said.
For now, the focus is on growing the collection and gaining more public attention. Brown hopes to hold an annual festival celebrating artists’ work when new sculptures arrive, promoting interaction between the community and the artists.
Stone Ledge Sculpture Garden
An open field of vibrant sculptures comes into view as tourists coast down Route 9. Twenty years after the first installation, the Stone Ledge Sculpture Garden continues to grow. Co-owner Dick Sabourin jokes that the garden started because he married an art teacher.
The park is always open for the public to explore. The garden includes creations by SUNY Plattsburgh graduates who created large sculptures that they couldn’t bring home. Additionally, co-owner Jackie Sabourin has her own work in the garden. Some newer sculptures have randomly appeared in the middle of the night. When this occurred, it puzzled Dick and Jackie, but they assumed the artist had no room in their home to keep their oversized creations. Regardless of their origin, some of the pieces in the garden sell, and the money goes back to the artist.
Convenient benches arranged throughout the garden allow for a relaxing visit. Potted flowers and green shrubbery liven the grounds. The artwork stretches up to the very edge of the property where a depiction of “The Last Supper” sits. A long wooden table holds ceramic fruits, in front of a row of tall steel figures.
The upkeep for such a beautiful garden has been difficult, especially as the couple get older, Sabourin said. Weed whacking around all the sculptures and keeping the flowers thriving can be strenuous, but this hard work is rewarded. The garden guest book, located on a wooden pedestal at the front of the garden, is filled with pages upon pages of positive feedback.
Stone Ledge Sculpture Garden joins Betty Little Arts Park and Juniper Sculpture Park in opening a window into the fusion of art and nature.
Story and photos by Natalie St. Denis