Thursday, June 3, 2010


This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit a little-known sculpture park in Salt Lake City. As I wandered, I could not help but think of my favorite sculpture park, in some ways quite similar, and in others, well... not. I thought that despite the detour, it would be interesting to spend this week comparing and contrasting these two. Just for fun and something just a bit different. We don't want anyone getting bored with too much old brown furniture!!!

So what, you may ask, is my favorite sculpture park? Well, to those of you who know me well, it won't come as a large shock that it is located in Norway. My homeland. My motherland. Well, at least my mother's land. I was privileged enough to be born to a true Viking Norwegian. So, the sculpture park has always been a part of my life; I clearly remember playing amongst the massive stone figures as a small child (and the figures looked really, really big then).

Anyway, the park is not special merely because it is located in Norway and I frequented it as a 10-year-old. I am biased, but not so biased I would introduce you to just any sculpture park for no reason at all. No. This sculpture park is the largest sculpture park created by one artist- in the world. Not only is it the largest park by one artist, it is also just plain big. There are 192 sculptures in the park, with approximately 600 carved or cast figures. It is just simply a joy to wander.

Vigeland Park is located in downtown Oslo. The artist, Gustav Vigeland, lived from 1869 to 1943. The park was built between 1939 and 1949, with most of the works created between 1926 and Vigeland's death. Vigeland was born to a crafty family in a small town in Norway.  When it was established that he might have some talent, he was sent to Oslo to master the craft of woodcarving. But alas, like so many creatives, his hopes were temporarily dashed and he was called home when his father died. But he made it back to Oslo when he was 19, and well, as they say, the rest is history. Sidenote: this in fact happened to my painter-Great-Grandmother as well. She was called back home from Oslo when her mother died. Unfortunately she never made it back to the big city and despite her talents, she had to content herself with painting the local church altarpiece (which is pretty fabulous).

Vigeland Park:

The Human Monolith, the focal point of the park:

Many of Vigeland's themes are biblical or center around basic human emotions: love, anger, pain. And many explore relationships between man and woman:


Or parents and children (which is more true-to-life?):

(Apparently Vigeland had some pretty major issues with kids and/or father figures)

And then some are just fun and odd (hey, he was making a lot of sculpture, it can't all be serious):

(above: the most photographed sculpture in the park) 

(Not sure what type of creature this is, but I fear it might get the better of her)

But the expressions and detail are simply stunning and certainly warrant a visit:

Now let's explore Utah's answer to Vigeland. The Gilgal park is indeed a park created exclusively by one artist, and is the only of its kind in the state (it is in fact classified as the only 'visionary art environment' in Utah...whatever that is). And this artist, like Vigeland, was quite interested in all themes biblical. Gilgal can boast 12 sculptures and over 70 engraved stones. While the scale is somewhat more modest, the real difference is the quirky-factor. The whole thing is more quirky than the most quirky of the quirky at Vigeland. But who doesn't love the quirk! And the most refreshing part about all of this, is that the artist was even self-aware when it came to the quirk! He often noted: "You don't have to agree with me. You may think I am a nut, but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity." Good for you!

Not surprisingly, the artist, Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., was a proud Mormon. And he wanted to feature scenes near and dear to his heart. Of course, one would assume the founder of the Mormon church would feature prominently. And well, he does....just in a somewhat unusual way. Here is the church founder Joseph Smith. Or I suppose I should say Joseph Smith's head. One the body of a Sphinx.

Now, forgive me, but I don't see the connection. But then again, I am not Mormon. There might be a connection. Any thoughts anyone?  Maybe the Sons or Daughters of Zion could help us out?

Next we have a trip south of the border, to a work which just screams Frida Kahlo or well, any number of Latin American artists. They seem to have a thing for bleeding, exposed hearts. I am not sure what organ is represented on the right side...any guesses?

Next we come to the dismembered man, also a possible Latin American theme? Actually it is just supposed to be a disarticulated sculpture, not an actual person (biblical something-or-other). I still find it a bit disturbing and would not recommend it for small children:

But I do want to steal the foot for my house!

Here is another typical biblical theme...the locust. And this is a biggie. But I am not sure about the (again) disturbing man leering at me next to the locust:

But, no matter how odd these sculptures may be, you cannot say anything harsh about a guy who includes a bust of his wife in his very thematic sculpture park (even if she is stuffed into a dark niche):
Now, I might be poking fun, but I must highly and seriously recommend the modest but vastly fascinating sculpture park to anyone in the Salt Lake vicinity. It truly is a unique experience and worth the visit. See website details below.

Well, I think it has come time to explain today's title. One of the most important decisions any artist makes, is how he is to portray himself in a self-portrait. This is something to be taken very seriously and decided very carefully. And both the above men obviously took their time in the decision. Vigeland, the distinguished father of Norwegian sculpture, decided to go for a noble and proud stance, holding the tools of his trade, dressed in a modest smock.

But Child, he had a grander vision for himself:

Sure, there are tools of the trade, and a noble stance, but look at that jacket! And did you see the pants?! Child had a lot to say about his attire in this impressive self-portrait. First, he wanted everyone to be very aware of the fact that his jacket shown was, in his humble opinion, the greatest jacket ever made or worn. And he had been to Europe, he knew. I just wonder where he got it...but he never revealed that information...I suppose he wanted to be the only man in Utah with such a piece of finery. And the pants. What can be said about those pants? I assume he did not in fact wear brick pants, but for some reason felt compelled to show himself wearing brick pants. And this proved to be a costly and time-consuming decision. Each brick had to be cut and shaped prior to firing, and then reassembled like a 3d puzzle after firing. It took a long time. He went through a lot of bricks. But look at that detailed work! The effort certainly paid off.

So the only question would be: which is a better representation of the true soul of a sculptor?

Check out the Vigeland website:

Also check out this interesting blog, which is penned by a Sri Lankan living in Oslo:

And of course, to see more of the brick pants:


  1. I love the brick pants, but as a Son of Zion I am unaware of any connection between a Sphinx and the founder of the church. Very amusing blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. Fascinating! I never heard of this quirky park but am excited to check it out. The background scenery of Vigeland Park reminded me of a great sculpture park we accidentally stumbled upon in New York... Griffis Sculpture Park (see I love these parks because the stroll through the park itself is part of the whole experience, and you can't get that experience from photos.

  3. I love the Human Monolith. It's so unusually beautiful.

  4. Griffis Park looks great...might have to check it out next time I am in NY! Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. Yeah, the Monolith is so impressive, especially up close. The amount of detail is amazing.

  6. Thanks for the photos, I've never been to Gilgal Park. His work would look great on a miniature golf course.
    On a more serious note, if your looking for a "visionary art environment" the City County Building, Salt Lake Temple, or Cathedral of the Madeleine.

  7. Thanks for the tips KC, I would love to do some research on the City County building- its really nice. Do you still have access??? And yes, I think a mini golf course would be a good fit!!!

  8. Yes I do, just let me know. P.S. I like your Blog

  9. I sure do, just let me know.