KERHONKSON – The unique beauty and community of the Rondout Valley draws an eclectic spectrum of artists to its storied hills. For those of us fortunate enough to call this valley our home, there is always another inspiring example to be discovered. In 1978, that magical draw brought sculptor Bradford Graves, and his wife, music producer Verna Gillis, to invest in what was then a remote tract of Kerhonkson land. Today, twelve years after Mr. Graves' passing, Ms. Gillis has created a presentation space that is a celebration of both her husband's work, and the majestic land that both houses and complements it.
"In the Middle of Somewhere!" is how Ms. Gillis advertises the sculpture park and gallery that she has designed, some four miles up Samsonville Road off of Route 209. Indeed, upon arrival at Graves Sculpture Park, it is immediately apparent that you are very much somewhere — like a modern-day Stonehenge, the crafted landscape integrates dozens of Graves' huge stone sculptures so seemlessly, that it almost seems as though they evolved there along with the trees, ponds and hills.
Instead of standard pedestals, Gillis presents the sculptures on slabs of indigenous bluestone.
"They have such integrity," says Ms. Gillis, "I wanted to make is so that people could actually sit with the sculptures."
The process was anything but simple though; the thousands of pounds of artwork were transported from Graves' 4000 square foot studio on 52nd Street in Manhattan, and then painstakingly placed under the guidance of Gillis' intimate knowledge and love of the work.
Mr. Graves, 58 when he died in 1998, spent a lifetime fascinated by the synthesis of modern and ancient; he repeatedly traveled the country, and the world, visiting archaeological sites and studying age-old craft techniques of what he referred to as "Stone Cultures".
"The making of sculpture may be taken as my desire for wholeness, the recognition of my identity as being a part of the earth and its materials," wrote Graves about his work.
The experience offered to the visitor is access to that vision, as the giant, earthbound, and primitively resonant limestone pieces are juxtaposed against the limitless background of nature.
"What I decided was: I couldn't make any mistakes," declares Ms. Gillis, regarding the years of effort it took to represent the character of her husband's efforts.
The result is nothing short of breathtaking. The arts complex includes acres of sculptures, with pavilions for particular collections — as well as an indoor gallery that displays examples of Mr. Graves' drawings and digital artwork, smaller sculptures, and interpretive pieces. Ms. Gillis is currently taking visitors to the grounds by appointment: go to www.bradfordgraves.com online for contact information, and further information about the life and work of Mr. Graves. Whatever response you may have to the work, the journey that awaits will be well worth the trip.