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Exploring the Fine Arts Garden

Take a stroll through the museum grounds
Alexandra Czajkowski, Member Program Coordinator
September 3, 2021
Belt, 2007. Deborah Butterfield (American, b. 1949).  2020.201 

Have you ever walked through the CMA’s Fine Arts Garden to explore the sculptures and statues up close or enjoyed a picnic on the Smith Family Gateway? You may not realize that the museum’s collection extends well beyond the gallery walls, where a beautiful landscape and works of art await discovery.

If first approaching the museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, you will be greeted by the new Smith Family Gateway, an expansive park nestled along Doan Brook’s renovated banks. What was once an easily overlooked and neglected patch of land has now been converted into a welcoming seven acres of greenery, pathways, and benches to enjoy a moment of respite, panoramic overlooks, or a meal al fresco.

As you journey up and along the meandering paths west of the museum, you will soon encounter Horse, gifted from the Nancy F. and Joseph P. Keithley Collection. To create this life-size sculpture, American artist Deborah Butterfield cast found pieces of wood into bronze, a process that translates the wood’s porous texture into metal. From there, she built the structure of the horse using her extensive knowledge of these animals to achieve its lifelike posture. Butterfield’s see-through sculpture integrates the surrounding landscape and transforms the west lawn of the CMA into a sprawling ranch, perhaps even recalling the Montana property where the artist lived and worked for more than 30 years. 

Once you continue to the top of the museum’s south terrace, you can overlook the historical Fine Arts Garden, a vista that is in itself a work of art. The museum was built on land donated by industrialist Jeptha Homer Wade II. Prior to the construction of the CMA, Wade Park was a popular recreation area that included a lake for boating and skating, walking paths, and picnic areas. However, construction of the museum nearly decimated the area, and it remained untended for years. 

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Fountain of the Waters 1928. Chester A. Beach (American, 1881–1956). Marble

It was not until 1923 that the Garden Club of Cleveland, whose library was housed at the museum, appointed a committee to enhance the area. Through various fundraisers, garden club members hired the firm of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City, to design the Fine Arts Garden, which now houses Chester Beach’s Fountain of the Waters and various statues portraying the 12 zodiac signs. 

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Boy and Panther Cub 1915. Malvina Hoffman (American, 1887–1966). Bronze; h. 171.5 cm. Bequest of John L. Severance, 1942.797

The west and east ends of the terrace feature American artist Malvina Hoffman’s bronze statues Boy and Panther Cub and Bacchanale. The former statue, commissioned by Cleveland industrialist John Severance, portrays a youthful boy dangling grapes over the mouth of a cub. This depiction of friendship appears to suggest a harmony between humankind and nature, a fitting analogy for a bronze statue placed outdoors. Depicting a dance of wild abandon, Hoffman’s Bacchanale was inspired by a performance starring Anna Pavlova, one of the foremost ballerinas of her time. Hoffman has sculpted a fleeting moment from the dance without sacrificing the rhythmic flow of movement. The two youths appear to be dancing toward the museum, their movements almost motioning for us to follow.

But before heading inside the museum’s south entrance (open through November), there are a few more notable works of art to visit. Bordering the south terrace on the eastern lawn stands Robert Indiana’s Art. Indiana, a self-proclaimed “painter of signs,” is known for sculptures that incorporate abstraction and language. With its large-scale presence and striking pops of color, Art seems to emphatically declare that not only is the museum itself a place filled with art, but so too is the outdoor space surrounding it.

As you circle the path north toward the museum’s main entrance, it’s hard to miss Tony Smith’s Source . Considered a forerunner of the Minimalists, Smith created monumental sculptures in geometric forms that were often inspired by nature. Source possesses a balance between mass and volume, creating a playful energy that spills into the public space. Seen from certain angles, the black lines of this sculpture seem to mirror the vertical stripes on the museum’s northern facade.

These sculptures are only a handful of the artworks throughout the Fine Arts Garden. We hope you feel inspired to explore the area during your next visit to the CMA. You can also browse the digital Fine Arts Garden collection at https://digitalarchives.clevelandart.org/digital/collection/p17142coll11.