Jack Firneno, the Wire
Sculptures are unique structures that, according to Jennifer Miller, “infuse the atmosphere with energy.”
Sort of like the festival she’s created around them.
This weekend, Miller is hosting the first Tyler Park Arts Music and Sculpture Festival. Running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the event combines Bucks County-based musicians and fine arts and crafts all within a sculpture garden featuring permanent installations in the park and pieces shipped in just for the occasion.
The artisans and bands are hand-picked, and the “visiting” sculptures earned their spots through a jury process. And, as with other events at the Center, Miller’s steadfast rule about the artists being at the festival is in full effect.
“That’s a big difference between our shows and some others,” she explained. “You’re actually interacting with the artists, not just taking it like at a gallery or a concert hall. You can ask what inspired them, and what’s going on in their work.”
Ultimately, it’s an unusual combination of mediums, but, it’s one that Miller, director of the Tyler Park Center for the Arts, is excited to present.
“It’s bringing together all the things that make the Center special,” she said.
Over the past 18 years, Miller has held plenty of art shows and craft fairs, and regularly hosts coffee house-style gatherings featuring local music acts ranging from folk and jazz to community orchestras.
It all takes place at the large house that was once an elaborate horse stable for the Tyler family but has long been the home of the Arts Center. And, surrounding the structure is a garden area containing the many alabaster and marble sculptures created by Stella Elkins Tyler in the early 20th century .
That garden was where Miller, a potter by trade, began developing her love of sculpture. But, that’s hardly the only element that makes the grounds so attractive.
“From the time we opened, we would get feedback that this place is really special,” she explained. “It’s something about the building and the space. It’s relaxing and beautiful in a sacred kind of way.”
And, it’s in this environment that she hopes more people will appreciate sculptures the way she does — and, hopefully, even purchase some. However, that’s perhaps easier said than done: Sculptures are often much more expensive than other artists’ works, making them less attractive to individual collectors. The ones coming in for the festival, for instance, range from $500 to $400,000.
But, Miller hopes that, along with enjoying the pieces, some festivalgoers may be people who represent groups that would be interested in purchasing some of them.
“The large-scale pieces generally end up in sculpture gardens, but also townships, hospitals, corporate centers or smaller businesses,” she notes. “Some places like to have an iconic piece to their property, to be the car dealership with the giant dragon out front.”
But, commerce is far from the biggest reason for the festival — or even the main attraction. It’s a celebration of the medium, one that Miller finds inspiring, and she encourages others to explore in the same way she did. “That’s the ultimate desire: for everybody to enjoy these public works.”
And, it’s her chance to encourage a new generation of artists to pursue the craft: among the many professional pieces are five sculptures created by local high school students. Miller made sure the students got the full artist experience: which means they had to present a bio and prospectus for their work along with photos in order to be considered.
For their hard work, they’re all up for a people’s choice award for a monetary prize, and a juried sculptor’s choice award where the winner earns an apprenticeship with a professional.
“It encourages artists to explore and see what it’s really like,” said Miller.
And, that exploration extends well past the visual arts: just as important to the festival are bands playing over the weekend. For years, Miller had been thinking about holding a large music event, especially as she became familiar with more and more locally based bands.
Acts like the JB Kline and the Little Red Rooster Blues Band are guaranteed crowd-pleasers — “One of my students recommended them, saying they’re amazing and so danceable,” Miller noted — while others like Wineskin were instrumental in coordinating the event. Also on the bill is John Beacher, a regular at the Center and a favorite of Miller’s.
“He’s such a kind, beautiful soul,” she said. “His music is inspiring, he comments on a world that’s difficult in a positive way. He finds a way to create a feeling of magic around some of the issues of our time.” That’s also, in a sense, what Miller herself is trying to do with the Music and Sculpture Festival.
“It’s like walking into another world, like the air is infused with creativity energy from the artists and musicians,” said Miller. “It’s all enhancing the good vibes that the building has already.”