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Great Places in America: The BMA Sculpture Garden in Birmingham, Alabama

Posted: Oct 13, 2010

The American Planning Association (APA) recently named the Charles Ireland Sculpture Garden at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham Alabama, as one of the top twenty public spaces in America. The sculpture garden is just one of five of the APA's top twenty spaces in America which are located in the South.

According to APA, their flagship program celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.

I am delighted to have the Charles Ireland Sculpture Garden recognized as it has long been one of my favorite places to restore myself while in the bustling city. The wonders of the museum not withstanding, I often find myself simply sitting in the restful sculpture garden while others in my party explore the latest exhibits. Designed by Elyn Zimmerman, the garden is on three levels -- the Red Mountain Garden Area, Lower Gallery and Upper Plaza. This design allows for different exhibitions to be displayed simultaneously without interfering with each other.Go to the APA web site Great Places to read more about the Charles Ireland sculpture garden and see a slide show of this marvelous space.

Another of my favorite places in Birmingham is the Storyteller Fountain at Five Points South by Alabama sculptor Frank Fleming. This photo does not adequately depict the detail of the fountain nor the size of the horned, goat-footed storyteller. You must see the fountain and sculptures for yourself.  Fleming's fascinating and whimsical sculptures can be seen in places all over the South, including the garden at the Montgomery Museum of Art and the Botanical Gardens in Huntsville, Alabama. This charming fountain is just a few feet from the door of Frank Stitt's famous restaurant Highland's Bar and Grill and companion restaurant Chez Fonfon. There is also a Storyteller statue by Fleming called "The Buck Man"   in Buckhead in Atlanta, Georgia. 

I am a great fan of public art. I am drawn to it, particularly in large cities, and it speaks to me in some special way. I can recall nearly every piece of public art I have ever seen in each of many cities in the US where I have traveled. I seek those spaces out, and I linger in them. Perhaps I feel that I am sharing an incredible experience with a world of ordinary folk who would not otherwise be treated to such a sight . With public art, one can sit and savor and not feel pressured to move to another room. Viewing public art is a leisurely and indulgent activity--my favorite kind of activity. Public art is also often very large, and I like large. It also complements the natural setting, and I relish being out of doors.

If you are planning a trip to Birmingham this fall, don't miss the Birmingham Museum and the fantastic Charles Ireland sculpture garden. While you are in the city, set aside time to visit Vulcan Park. As I child, I knew I was approaching Birmingham when I could glimpse the massive metal statue of Vulcan towering over the city. I even had a small model of the sculpture which I treasured.

Speaking of sculpture, be sure to add a trip to Sloss Furnaces to your Birmingham itinerary. Sloss was recently the subject of a fine documentary called Sloss: From Industry to Art. Check Swampland in a couple of weeks for a feature on this amazing place and some of the artists who have worked there.

American Planning Association's Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Places that are enjoyable, safe, and desirable. Places where people want to be — not only to visit, but to live and work every day. America's truly great streets, neighborhoods and public spaces are defined by many criteria, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement. You can read more about America's Great Places on the www at planning.org/greatplaces.

A word to the wise--plan to see the museums on a day other than Monday as most museums in the south are closed on Monday.

---Penne J. Laubenthal 
Related Links
     Alabama: A Place in the Sun

     Alabama Adventure Weekend
 

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