Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park
Located in southwestern Ohio, Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park is a 265-acre park and outdoor museum combining the nature with art.
Hamilton attorney Harry Wilks started to build his dream house in the country, and ended up creating a nationally acclaimed sculpture park.
At 80, Harry Wilks lives alone in an underground house atop a hill surrounded by woods, meadows and huge sculptures. When he drinks his morning coffee under his glass pyramid roof, he can enjoy his collection of antiquities: . . . When he climbs his two-story tower, he looks out on his 265-acres "yard" and surveys a landscape unlike any other. On a hill to the west stands "Abracadabra," a giant crimson swirl of steel set in a field of green. . . . At every turn, sculpture — in steel, bronze, stone, and wood — creates a thrilling medley of nature and art.
This is Pyramid Hill, the retired Hamilton attorney's home . . . It's also the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, one of only five in the nation. There are 55 works in the park so far, some by internationally known artists including Alexander Liberman, Clement Meadmore, George Sugarman and Tony Rosenthal, as well as emerging and regional artists. . . . More than 100,000 people each year visit the 10-year-old park, some to enjoy art and nature, others for conferences, concerts, weddings and festivals.
It all started, Wilks says, with a chain saw. "I wanted to move out of town when I retired, so I bought 40 acres out here. Then I bought a chain saw and a machete and started to clear the brush. Then I needed to hire a bulldozer to put in the roads and lakes and the bulldozer driver was a golfer, so he suggested a golf course. I built eight and a half holes of golf and I stopped." As adjacent land became available, Wilks bought as much as he could, until he had 265 acres of hilly woodland on the Great Miami River, a mile southwest of Hamilton in Butler County. "I think it was one day when we were cutting down trees that I saw a dogwood in bloom, and it was so beautiful and I thought, 'By God, I have to save this.' I began to love nature. After I built my house out here I put in the eight lakes and I already had the tennis court and the hiking trails. My friends would come to visit, and they started to offer me money for some of my land. They were offering $100,000 and $125,000 an acre. These were wealthy men. I had eight offers in four months and they totaled almost a million dollars. And I thought, 'What the heck's going to happen to all this when I die?' My two daughters have places of their own. They would have to sell it. And I thought of all the work I had put into this, building roads, acquiring more land. I had done it all myself, with no master plan, no engineers, no architects. So I stopped, in the middle of the ninth hole. I thought, 'How can I prevent this land from being sold?'"
Wilks decided to create a public foundation with a board of trustees to oversee the property. He had to decide what the purpose of the land would be. .
. . . Reporters from area newspapers and television stations were eager to do stories about Wilks' unusual underground house. One of them, Jackie Demaline from The Cincinnati Enquirer, told him something that set the spark. "I was driving her around in a golf cart and I was indulging in a fantasy," Wilks says. "I pointed to a spot and said 'There is my Rodin. At another place I said, 'See my Henry Moore,' pretending that I had sculpture by all these great artists in my park. She said, 'Have you ever heard of Storm King?' She said it's this sculpture park in the East, in New York. "I never knew there was such a thing. There are sculpture gardens, but whoever heard of a sculpture park? So I went to see Storm King and the other parks and I talked to some artists and some galleries in New York. I said, 'I can do this.'" He also knew that his landscape was far more dramatic than the flat, grassy fields of other sculpture parks.
"We have natural galleries," he says. "This is an ideal place for sculpture."
Most of the sculpture in the park is abstract and monumental, in the style that began to appear in cities in the late 1960s, when every major building, first in New York and then across the country, required a signature work of sculpture. . . . He started with three works by Alexander Liberman, whose brilliant, red "Abracadabra," two and a half stories tall and three and a half stories wide, has the prime position in the park, atop the highest hill. . . . Although Wilks bought the first works for the park, he no longer buys modern sculpture out of his own pocket. "All I buy are the antiquities. We get a flood of mail from artists wanting me to buy their work, but that's not the way it's set up. The foundation has to raise the money, from corporations, individuals and foundations, to pay for the art. We own about 60 percent of the work here. The rest is on loan. We will pay installation costs and give the artist a small stipend for keeping the work here, and we hold first option to buy if we decide to keep it."
"I see myself as the caretaker of the land while I am here," he says, "and I want this to be here for hundreds of years."