Copper in the Arts

April 2021

The Monumental Legacy of Bronze Sculptor Seward Johnson

By Lisa Scheid

Captured-Seward-Johnson.jpgCaptured, sculpture by Seward Johnson Jr.
Photograph ©2021 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc.

It has been more than a year since J. Seward Johnson Jr., the artist who blurred the line between art and reality with his bronze sculptures, passed away at the age of 89. The Seward Johnson Atelier and the sculpture garden he founded are poised to continue his legacy. 

“Seward Johnson’s work as a sculptor had a potent impact on the landscape at large,” says Paula Stoeke, curator of the Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc. in Santa Monica, California. “His generosity as a philanthropist in the arts, including the founding of Grounds For Sculpture, as well as The Seward Johnson Atelier, his support of live theater and other artists, will last well beyond his lifetime.”

Stoeke said in the last 10 years Johnson had focused on monumental-sized works and continued to expand his Celebrating the Familiar series.  

Johnson continued to work with scale in the landscape creating his Daydream sculpture in 2014. Inspired by Matisse, Daydream is 60 feet in breadth. His bronze piece, Redon’s Fantasy of Venus (2016), stands lake side, more than 7 feet high on the Grounds for Sculpture, where many of his monumental works can be encountered. Johnson had said he enjoyed playing with scale because it made people take a second look at their importance. 

The series Celebrating the Familiar - which highlighted the “man on the street” - continued to expand, as did the series about Icons Revisited with the addition of the painted bronze sculpture, Can Do, inspired by Rosie the Riveter. 

His series Beyond the Frame, inspired by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist master painters, was frequently on display along the European Cultural Trail outside of Paris where many of those paintings originated. 

seward-johnson-portrait.jpegArtist J. Seward Johnson Jr.
Photograph ©2021 The Seward Johnson Atelier, Inc.

A highlight of his final years was a lifetime retrospective in 2014. Stoeke said nearly every sculpture the artist had created was borrowed from collectors, or from the foundation’s sources, creating an amazing overview of this artist’s devotion to public art. A complete monograph of Johnson’s work was also published during this time.

Once dismissed by some art critics, Johnson saw his works embraced around the world, particularly at the end of his life.

In terms of exhibitions, monumental sculptures by Johnson went on view in Australia, China, Belgium, England, and Italy. Each with gala unveilings.  He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, as well.  

In 2019 Seward Johnson was honored with the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Dubbed “America’s most popular sculptor,” the sculpture center noted his popularity stretched well beyond the United States.  In over 50 years as a sculptor, he created more than 300 works in cast bronze that have been featured in public spaces around the world including Paris, London, Osaka, Berlin, Madrid and Kiev. 

Public art is one activity that can be enjoyed outdoors and works well with social distancing, allowing families and communities to be inspired by what they see. So even during the pandemic of 2020 there were large exhibits at the Dallas Arboretum, the City of Saginaw Michigan, and the town of Simsbury, Connecticut, Stoeke said..   

In 2021, Stoeke said Johnson’s works will be exhibited in Plant City, Florida and Albany, New York. There are several other locales as yet to be formally announced. 

Seward Johnson’s sculptures will continue to be widely exhibited, both in permanent collections open to the public, as well as traveling shows.

Resources:

The Seward Johnson Atelier, Santa Monica, CA, (310) 264-2400

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