A fascinating and delightful wonderland for art lovers, Grounds for Sculpture is a picturesque oasis in an off-the-beaten-path location in Hamilton, New Jersey. Colorful gardens, sculptures, rolling hills, water features—and an upscale restaurant are all found at this world-class 42-acre massive art destination in Southern Jersey. Just a few miles outside of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it’s a quick drive and a memorable destination for adults and children, as this location is just off Highway 295. Visitors can easily spend an entire day exploring the art throughout this intriguing sculpture park that features beautiful, sprawling outdoor spaces (and some indoor, too)! that showcases exquisite contemporary works of all kinds.
Founded by artist Seward Johnson in the early 1990s, Grounds for Sculpture is situated on the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds. The site had been deserted for years and was in a state of disrepair. Johnson’s vision was to create a unique space that invited guests to admire and learn about contemporary art within a beautiful and tranquil setting. It required several years of work and construction to transform the neglected space into the stunning destination that it is today. Over 2,000 plants and trees were added, including several rare species, and there are currently over 300 contemporary sculptures on display.
Since the opening, nearly 1,000 artists have showcased their work at this unique location, and the park has welcomed over 3 million guests. Several notable artists include Beverly Pepper, Kiki Smith, Isaac Witkin, Joyce J. Scott, Anthony Caro, and many others. The organization supports new and up-and-coming artists as well. Every year, contemporary artists are invited to create unique sculptures for the gardens.
What to See and Do
Grounds for Sculpture offers a great deal of natural beauty combined with fascinating artwork. There are many intriguing and surprising areas of this magical destination, and visitors are encouraged to spend as much time exploring this unique and art-filled park.
- Rat's Restaurant: This upscale French restaurant may have a surprising name (it's named after the character in "Wind in the Willows") has been referred to as one of the most scenic restaurants in the United States, as it overlooks some of the most breathtaking scenery in the gardens. It's open for lunch and dinner (and brunch on weekends), serving up gourmet specialties. It offers indoor and outdoor seating (weather permitting). Reservations are required, and often this restaurant is booked for months.
- Rat's Pond: This picturesque, colorful koi pond features a waterfall, water lilies, weeping willow trees, and cherry trees.
- Monet Bridge: Adjacent to the patio at Rat's restaurant, the Monet Bridge was envisioned to replicate Monet's well-known painting, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies. (The actual bridge still exists today in Giverny, France).
- Forest of the Subconscious: This collaboration with famous fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt opened in 2008 and showcases artwork among lovely pathways with weeping white pine trees and weeping Norway spruce trees.
- Water garden: This tranquil area is located next to the Domestic Arts Building and shines a spotlight on small sculptures among complex water features above and below the surface.
- Bamboo observation tower: Offering a jaw-dropping view three stories above this expansive property, the observation tower in the Eastern Garden allows guests to see the area from 20 feet above.
- Red maple allee: One of the most popular spots in the park for photos, this meandering pathway is lined with two rows of beautiful Japanese Maple trees. The colors are exceptionally brilliant in the autumn when the leaves turn shades of bright red.
- The orchard: This area features two types of crab apple trees that bloom in April and May, showcasing dozens of pink and white flowers each spring.
- Lotus pond and gazebo: As one of the first areas of the park to be landscaped, the lotus pond and gazebo are considered the "heart of the garden." In the summer, the gazebo is transformed into a snack bar, offering ice cream and treats and beer and wine.
- Acer Courtyard and Bamboo Courtyard: These two courtyards are shady, out-of-the-way locations in the park that allow guests to sit and rest while contemplating the artwork here. The Acer courtyard is surrounded by Japanese Maple trees, while the Bamboo includes several species of the bamboo plant.
- Picnics in the park: In the summer months, you can pre-order a picnic basket from the onsite café and enjoy a tasty meal outdoors among the sculptures.
How to Visit
For an optimal visit, it’s best to purchase your tickets for this unique park in advance. Grounds for Sculpture also offers annual memberships if you plan to visit more than once.
If you’re an art fan, it’s a good idea to do some preliminary research and check out the Grounds for Sculpture website in advance and read about the artwork and brief biographies of the artists who created the pieces. You will also want to be aware of any installations (or upcoming exhibits you will want to experience).
Plan your visit carefully—Grounds for Sculpture is an outdoor destination, and it’s best experienced in fair weather. Also, be aware of how much time you need to truly enjoy Grounds for Sculpture. For example, if you wish to explore the sculpture gardens before dinner at Rats Restaurant, be sure to give yourself enough time to appreciate them. You can easily spend several hours exploring the expansive property and meandering around the trails and hidden walkways. (Keep in mind that it’s not a quick 15-minute visit before dinner). You’ll want to admire the art installations and the entire property at a leisurely pace.