Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden: Birmingham, Alabama
The Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden breaks all preconceptions about a sculpture garden experience. Here is a place to have fun and interact with the environment and artwork, a place that is welcoming to all — even the visually impaired, who "see" the sculptures through their sense of touch.
The garden is at the Birmingham Museum of Art grounds, 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd., near U.S. interstates I-20 East/I-59 North.
Zimmerman's plan divided the garden into three zones: The Lower Gallery, The Red Mountain Garden, and the Upper Plaza. The sunken Lower Gallery is an "open air" space used for temporary exhibits. The Red Mountain Club Garden, elevated slightly above the Lower Gallery, is an homage to the Birmingham Museum of Art's original garden — with the preservation of its old water oak trees and social character. This portion of the garden, used as a human-scale, social space, also contains significant sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Fernando Botero.
The striking Upper Plaza was designed for the museum's permanent sculptures and most monumental pieces including a major early sculpture by George Rickey. The focal point of the entire 13,000-square-foot Upper Plaza is Lithos II, a "waterwall" created by Elyn Zimmerman. This sculpture not only represents the geological striations of Birmingham itself, but masks the traffic noise from the nearby freeway.
As a national leader in tours for visually disabled and blind visitors, it's clear that the garden's primary focus is accessibility and enjoyment for all. As Birmingham photographer Virginia Jones explains: "It is a wonderful place to introduce children to the world of art. They can run around, be noisy, and look at the eclectic mix of sculpture up close and personal."
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Garden is part of $21 million expansion of the museum; completed 1993
- Team included architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, nationally known environmental sculptor Elyn Zimmerman, and KPS Group, Inc.
- Garden is part of the largest municipal museum in southeastern U.S.
- Elyn Zimmerman's landscape design complements and draws attention to art, including two site-specific water features created by artist Valerie Jaudon
- The Lower Gallery created as a neutral space for temporary exhibits; located below garden's normal level to not compete with other spaces
- The Upper Plaza's "waterwall" alludes to Birmingham's geological, economic, and social history involving minerals, rocks, and the steel industry
- One of Sol LeWitt's largest outdoor paintings — on a wall overlooking the garden — is visible from the nearby freeway
- Displays works by world-renowned artists, including Auguste Rodin, Fernando Botero, Jacques Lipchitz, Beverly Pepper
Multiple Users, Uses
- A hub of activity year-round, including exhibition talks, classes, concerts, and special events, such as the annual "Art on the Rocks"
- Besides sculpture viewing, garden used for reading, sketching, painting
- Museum initiated "Hands across Art" program (1990) to make paintings and sculptures accessible to the blind and vision impaired; museum remains a national leader in tours for visually impaired and blind visitors, allowing for tactile interaction with the sculptures.
- Visiting sculptors from U.S. and the world come to live and work in Birmingham using city's "active industrial sites and dormant foundries" as studios; visiting artists' work often installed with museum guests in attendance