Sunday, October 5, 2003

Find your thrill at Pyramid Hill

Sculpture park near Hamilton is one of the area's gems

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A stone's throw from Hamilton, some 25 miles from downtown Cincinnati, lies a public park with monumental sculpture and an underground house.

Pyramid Hill sprawls over 265 acres of rolling hills, man-made lakes, thick woodlands and butterfly-filled meadows. Overlooking the Great Miami River, it is a contemporary art museum outdoors - a place where visitors can hike or drive through natural galleries filled with the splendor of art.

What: Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through October; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends only November-March
Where: 1763 Hamilton-Cleves Road (Ohio 128), Hamilton
How much: $3/$4 weekends; $1.50 children 5-12; under 5 free
Information: (513) 868-8336;
Directions: Take I-275 to Exit 33 and drive north on U.S. 27 to Hamilton/Ross exit. Turn right on Ohio 128 and drive 6 miles to Pyramid Hill on your left.
Art Fair: Three days of art, entertainment and workshops, Friday-Sunday, regular park hours.
Friday through next Sunday, the park will hold its first art fair, a fund-raising weekend of art, entertainment and workshops set amid the grandeur of the grounds.

Founded by former Hamilton attorney Harry Wilks, who lives under the park in a specially designed home crowned by a glass pyramid, Pyramid Hill is one of our region's hidden gems.

Forty-eight sculptures by international artists are dappled across the expanse that also features an amphitheater for summer concerts, tearoom, arboretum, picnic areas and the remains of an almost 200-year-old pioneer cabin.

"People I meet in the park tell me, 'I can't believe this is here,' " says the 78-year-old Wilks.

Wilks bought the first 40 acres - the park's core - in 1987. He meant to build a house, but after the land was cleared of honeysuckle, wild brambles and a few trees, he bought adjacent lots with a new mission: To "build the greatest sculpture park in the world."

"I love contemporary art," he says, "and I wanted to create something unusual. So I created the park."

It is one of three parks of its scale in the United States and the only one that can be viewed entirely by car from a system of one-way roads. Wilks says it is also the only sculpture park in the world with the goal of establishing a collection that will present a complete history of sculpture.

Many artists featured in the park have international standing. The work of Alexander Liberman, whose "Abracadabra" is considered the glory of the park, is in the collections of most major museums. So are Australian artist Clement Meadmore and New Yorker George Sugarman, whose "Cincinnati Story" was moved from downtown Cincinnati to Pyramid Hill when its owners, the Lowe's Corp., decided they didn't want it anymore. It was a nice freebie addition to the park's collection.

"The park is the perfect place to show artwork," says Hyde Park artist Walter Driesbach, whose bronze figure "Citizen" stands near the entrance. "Wilks has a really good sense of siting the works. It's amazing the quantity and quality of the works he has collected."

Discovering the entire character of the park can take several hours. After a steep climb up the driveway, check in at the park entrance for a map of driving and hiking trails.

You can drive throughout Pyramid Hill or park in any of the parking areas and walk. Walking is the best way to see the sculpture - from different sides, angles and during different times of the day.

"When you look at the work, you have to go up to it and around it. You can't view most of our sculpture from one viewpoint," says Wilks. "As you walk around it, it changes and the shadows change and the site changes, all depending on where you are standing."

The trails climb to the tops of grassy hills and back down to lakes with fountains near forests. Wear comfortable shoes and look out for the tranquil seating areas sprinkled throughout the park.

Whether you decide to do a portion on foot and then continue in the car, or spend the day delighting in the pastoral surroundings, you will find yourself wondering at the white-noise of buzzing insects, the reflection of the sun on bronze and steel and the serenity of the winding trails.


New to the hill

Pyramid Hill director Harry Wilks is expecting a new "blockbuster" sculpture by Michael Dunbar in six weeks. Also new are:

Melinda at the Beach by Bill Barrett (May)

The New York/Santa Fe artist has created an abstract bronze assemblage that looks something like a line drawing with positive and negative space. Gyro Chair 2 by Jim Killy (April)

The Miami University sculptor has constructed a whimsical piece from a motorcycle wheel, umbrella and old metal typewriter.

Ohbelisk by John Adduci (November 2002)

The Chicago artist has created a replica in steel of the Washington Monument, then manipulated the metal into a curve. Adam's First Breath by Sam McKinney (October 2002)

The Lexington native's "Adam" is a spectacular bronze that, although weighing 1,800 pounds, is filled with tension and kinetic movement.

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