Thanks for a great summer: Quilt Gardens, Seward Johnson sculpture exhibitions were big hit in Elkhart County

Elkhart Central High School art students pose for a group photo with the God Bless America sculpture in downtown Elkhart on Aug. 31, 2017.
Elkhart Central High School art students pose for a group photo with the God Bless America sculpture in downtown Elkhart on Aug. 31, 2017.

 

By Terry T. Mark

It’s been a fantastic summer, but Elkhart County will be bidding farewell to most of the Seward Johnson sculptures while Quilt Gardens are closing down in preparation for another colorful season in 2018.

There is one piece of good news: The God Bless America monumental-scale sculpture will be staying in Central Park in downtown Elkhart until February 2018. The extended exhibit of this sculpture was the result of the overwhelmingly positive reception to the sculpture by the city and surrounding area, according to Paula Stoeke, curator of The Seward Johnson Atelier.

The tremendous amount of goodwill around the exhibition made the decision to extend the stay for the monumental sculpture an easy one, Stoeke said.

“We have so enjoyed the many comments and emails that we’ve received from Elkhart County and from visitors to the Quilt Gardens this summer. Our thanks go out to everyone on the vast team from each town who helped to make this spectacular exhibit a reality,” Stoeke said.

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese welcomed the decision. “I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Seward Johnson monumental would remain in downtown Elkhart for an extended period. The sculptures have been an exciting addition to the city’s downtown and beyond, and I want to thank the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau for providing this attraction at no cost to the city of Elkhart,” Neese said.

 

Seward Johnson sculptures such as this one in Nappanee were popular picture-taking spots throughout the summer of 2017.
Seward Johnson sculptures such as this one in Nappanee were popular picture-taking spots throughout the summer of 2017.

 

The Seward Johnson sculptures — which drew countless visitors to the Quilt Gardens as part of its 10th anniversary celebration and the downtowns of Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee, Bristol, Middlebury and Wakarusa — are expected to be removed by late October.

The Quilt Gardens display officially ended Oct. 1, although the site managers of each garden may be removing the flowers at different times. Organizers already are preparing for next year’s Quilt Gardens, and each location will feature new designs, colors and flowers for the new season starting May 30, 2018.

Marilyn and more all summer long

The closing of the gardens and removal of most of the Seward Johnson sculptures does little to dim the memories of a hectic summer.

At the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, the number of visitors there surged thanks to the Forever Marilyn life-size sculpture featuring Marilyn Monroe and accompanying displays on Seward Johnson’s artistic process and local artists’ interpretations of the iconic movie star.

“The exhibit of the sculptures has created an inordinate amount of positive energy towards MMAA and we have also gained new members and an awareness of the museum’s impact in the community and beyond,” said Brian Byrn, director and curator of the museum. “The MMAA staff and trustees have been honored to be a collaborative partner with the ECCVB in bringing the message that art and culture are thriving in Elkhart County.”

 

The Seward Johnson sculpture depicting Marilyn Monroe was a popular draw to the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart.
The Seward Johnson sculpture depicting Marilyn Monroe was a popular draw to the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart.

 

Interest in the Seward Johnson sculptures was high throughout Elkhart County and was a big hit with residents of the area and visitors from across the U.S. The Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau distributed more than 40,000 Epic Art Adventure guides which listed the locations of the sculptures.

Kare Andersen of Olympia Candy Kitchen in Goshen definitely noticed the increase in traffic around the chocolate shop and restaurant. “You could tell because they were carrying those guides,” he quipped.

Andersen said the sculptures, which included the Just a Taste sculpture of two kids vying for an ice cream cone outside of Olympia Candy Kitchen, was great for the city of Goshen.

Downtowns in the spotlight

The Seward Johnson sculpture exhibition achieved the goals envisioned by the ECCVB when the exhibition started, which was to highlight the unique lovely qualities of the downtowns, bring greater attention to the Quilt Gardens, and encourage people to visit each city and enjoy their charms.

Jessica Flores of Coppes Commons in Nappanee said they were thrilled by the buzz that the Seward Johnson sculptures generated among residents.

“Our Quilt Garden was, once again, a great success for us, bringing in many out-of-towners each month. In fact, our Quilt Garden guest book lists over a dozen different states of residence,” Flores said. The Quilt Garden was accompanied by the Yum Yum sculpture by Seward Johnson.

The ECCVB has been very pleased by the public’s reception to the Seward Johnson exhibition. Sonya Nash, the project manager, said the fact that sculptures were here only for this summer and there is no plan for their return, helped make the adventure of finding all 57 sculptures even more special.

 

“This was a hit for visitors but also for local residents, who we saw exploring their hometown and neighboring cities and towns like never before. We heard many comments about how amazing the downtowns were in addition to the Quilt Gardens,” Nash said.

Plans are in the works for the 2018 Quilt Gardens. More details will be announced as the season approaches on May 30, 2018, the official opening day.


Terry T. Mark is the director of communications and public relations for the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau.


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