About the Collection

Seward Johnson loved the little things. A daughter perched on her father’s shoulders. A good cup of coffee. A conversation on a park bench. A man washing windows. A picturesque table beside a lake. An embrace. With his boundless curiosity and expansive approach to art, Johnson transformed these everyday moments into sculptures that captivate viewers. The common denominator throughout Johnson’s work is people living their lives, celebrating the everyday moments that bring us all together. Both familiar and foreign, Seward Johnson’s larger-than-life sculptures encompass everything from intimate memories shared between loved ones to quintessential memories in history. His innovative sculptures play with the viewer’s perspective, allowing them to see art and their own human experience with fresh eyes.

Johnson was fascinated by the marvel of ordinary life, be it encapsulated in a French Impressionist painting or immortalized in a portrait of a farmer and his daughter, as in Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Seward Johnson enjoyed tracing motifs repeated throughout art history and inviting the viewer to join in the fun. These “visceral moments,” as he referred to them, were sculpted in detail and poured in bronze. Sometimes, he amplified these ordinary images, and made them seem larger than life. Other times, he kept them life-size and realized them in such meticulous detail that they caught viewers off-guard.

The sculptures come alive when the community engages with them. Public activation is a core component of Seward Johnson’s work. His sculptures were made to be interacted with: to be touched, enjoyed, and engaged with. They blend seamlessly into the landscape and awaken the sense of those around them.

Finding the everyday moments within iconic images is a theme that ties together all five of Johnson’s series. He loved contrasting a historical perspective with the present day.

  • Celebrating the Familiar: perhaps his most well-known series, this series depicts man-on-the-street figures that provide a sculptural commentary on day-to-day life. 
  • Beyond the Frame: creates life-scale tableaux of famous paintings set directly in the landscape, which allow viewers to walk into a scene and interact with the realistic figures from well-known canvases of art history. 
  • Icons Revisited: explores time-tested images of people or events that became larger than life over time.
  • Monumental: this series takes some of these treasured everyday moments and then blows them up into striking, large-scale monuments.
  • Points of Departure: Johnson created sculptures that veer from the fixed ideas in his other series, to reveal his expansive curiosity and artistic breadth.
 

Taking iconic stories, paintings, and images and transforming them into immersive, three-dimensional experiences gave Johnson boundless joy. The siting, placement, and effortless blending of his artwork with the natural environment was one of Johnson’s greatest passions and talents. The power of these sculptures calls the viewer to pause and look at what is right in front of them. His sculptures invite us to consider what has passed and examine what possibilities lie ahead. 

For more information, email our Collection Manager.

Pictured here: Viral Art by Seward Johnson. This epic sculpture builds from Monet to Manet, Manet to Churchill, and then Churchill to Seward Johnson, himself, evolving exponentially across the eras. In the final note of this installation, Johnson playfully includes us, the viewer, giving us our own easel, and encouraging us to participate. If the virus is art, then Johnson embodied the concept of inviting everyone to join in, to catch this virus and to engage in “the visceral moment.” This piece belongs to his Points of Departure series, but incorporates aspects from several of his collections