Butler County: 5 Great Places for Public Art
This Southwest Ohio county celebrates art in a mix of forms and in a variety of places. Here are five fun locations to explore, from the City of Sculpture to the Miami University campus.
Hamilton, City of Sculpture
Hamilton was once an industrial hub on the Great Miami River. Busy in the first half of the 20th century, that hum had quieted by the time the ’80s arrived.
“So, the city fathers, during our bicentennial, decided we had to do something,” says Gerry Hammond, an original board member with Hamilton’s City of Sculpture organization and a longtime resident. “They decided to reinvent what kind of a town we were.”
City leadership began to nurture Hamilton’s artistic side, installing the first of many sculptures in 2000. With the enthusiasm of a few dedicated residents, including Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum founder Harry T. Wilks, the town began to grow into a title bestowed on it by then-Gov. Bob Taft: Hamilton, City of Sculpture.
In 2002, Hammond placed a sculpture designed by Lyman Whitaker along the Great Miami River. It’s one of more than 100 artworks throughout Hamilton. Both local and national artists are represented, including Kristen Visbal (sculptor of Wall Street’s “Fearless Girl”), who designed a tribute to the city’s namesake, Alexander Hamilton.
“The whole community was putting in money as they could,” Hammond says, acknowledging efforts from schoolchildren to senior citizens. 1 High St., Hamilton 45011, 513/844-8080, cityofsculpture.org
Miami University Sculpture Park
Miami University in Oxford is known for its classic, red brick buildings, but the Miami University Art Museum takes a more modern shape.
“The building itself is a sculpture,” says museum director Robert Wicks. “I think it’s appropriate that we had a sculpture park planned with the art museum in mind from the very beginning.”
Founded in 1978, the museum houses a collection of 17,000 works, and that’s just inside its walls. In 1979, “Star-Crossed” by Nancy Holt was added to the grounds. An earthworks sculpture, it was designed to eventually merge with the landscape.
During the last 40 years, Miami University has acquired additional outdoor works, such as Eugene Brown’s recognition of the area’s Native American culture, a piece called “A Tribe Named Miami, A Surveyor’s Stake, A Town Named Oxford” and Mark di Suvero’s “For Kepler.”
Nine sculptures are spread across the museum’s grounds, but others dot the campus. A recent campus life addition allows students to interact with these works.
“The university has now installed a disc golf course, and it actually encompasses part of our sculpture park,” says Wicks. “They’re out there enjoying the artwork as well as getting some exercise.” 801 S. Patterson Ave., Oxford 45056, 513/529-2232, miamioh.edu/artmuseum
Progress is often associated with new construction and technology. But Middletown found a way to make brick walls a herald of progress, too, by embracing the town’s artistic side.
“Art was a real integral part of Middletown,” says Sam Ashworth, an artist and a trustee of the Middletown Historical Society. A longtime steel town, the community was enthusiastic about arts and recreation, at one point supporting an orchestra and constructing an arts center that still operates today. During a downtown revitalization project, officials decided to expand the role of arts in the community.
“Part of that was creating pocket parks and some outside art,” says Ashworth. “That’s when the mural program in Middletown started.”
In 2004, Middletown first commissioned an artist to paint a depiction of a historic photograph showing a 1914 market scene. The community now has 10 murals throughout town, including one designed by Ashworth. It’s a music-inspired splash of color on a wall adjacent to a small park that hosts live music.
“People need art in their lives,” Ashworth says. “They may not have any interest in having art in their homes, but the more art you show them out in the public, the more appreciation they will have for it.” 130 N. Verity Pkwy., Middletown 45042, 513/424-2417, middletownartscenter.com
West Chester’s Sculpture on The Square
The sense of being from somewhere, of having a hometown, implies having an identity. As the biggest township in the state, West Chester offers that, but until 2009, the community lacked a central hub. With careful planning, The Square at Union Centre took shape.
“I think it was about building place and a sense of place,” says Barbara Wilson, West Chester’s director of public information and engagement. The Square — a grassy area adjacent to the local library — was designed with both recreation and art in mind, with benches and fountains built alongside a stage for weekly concerts.
Not long after The Square’s opening, the town erected a sculpture as well. Three concentric circles tilt on their sides, linked by a curve of steel that looks like a fern unfurling — the vision of area artist Pattie Byron.
“She has been so instrumental in our community, supporting the arts and bringing the arts to the attention of our residents,” says Wilson. Byron’s piece, titled “Community Chain,” was the perfect fit for The Square.
“People gather around that space, there are benches all around it,” says Wilson, noting it’s a welcome spot to rest or enjoy concerts. “It just feels comfortable.” 9285 Centre Point Dr., West Chester 45069, 513/777-5900, westchesteroh.org
Fairfield’s Village Green Park
At the start of his 20 years working for the city of Fairfield, Art Pizzano already had three decades of merging creativity and public spaces, and he saw potential in the relatively young town.
The idea to build both a social hub and foster a local identity led to the construction of the Fairfield Community Arts Center in 2005 across from the Fairfield Lane Library. Between the two, Village Green Park invites visitors to amble along a creek or take in live music at a stone amphitheater. Mixed-use development brings in private residences and retail.
“That was the original germ for saying, ‘OK, what can we do to really make this area pop with some things that would be interesting and relatable to that kind of a space?’ ” says Pizzano, retired Fairfield city manager. “The sculpture idea kind of morphed at about that time.”
Fairfield has installed 12 sculptures in all. The first arrived in 2002, a bronze summer scene of children playing with a hose. Fairfield’s fire chief saw an outlet for creativity.
“He said, ‘I can hook up some of our fire nozzles, and we can actually have water coming out,’ ” Pizzano recalls. 301 Wessel Dr., Fairfield 45014, 513/867-5348, fairfield-city.org
Everyone has inspiration that lifts them, offers stability and makes the ordinary just a little less so. Inside The Foundry — the indoor portion of Liberty Township’s Liberty Center shopping and entertainment district — you’ll find a set of wings. Painted white against a black brick wall, they’re the work of artist Kelsey Montague.
“It was just such a fit to say, ‘Hey, come to Liberty Center and explain to us what lifts you, because you lift us,’ ” says Sarah Newsad, marketing assistant with Bayer Properties. “Our center just needed some color … We needed something on these walls to stand out.”
Newsad and her co-worker Taylor Hunker worked with Montague in 2019 to bring the artwork to town, batting around ideas for two designs: a set of wings and a bubbly mural of balloons. Both works are on display at Liberty Center.
“[The wings mural] gives you the freedom to express yourself and be whoever you want to be in front of it,” Newsad says. “It’s not your typical piece of art.” 7100 Foundry Row, Liberty Township 45069, 513/644-0901, liberty-center.com