Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Kern Street Circus by LeAnn Powers. Photo: KGilb.

Kern Street Circus by LeAnn Powers. Photo: KGilb.

6/21/2012. Monarch Sculpture Park is like a country inn or manor house that has fallen on hard times. The scope and grandeur of the initial vision is still evident, but Mother Nature is moving rapidly to reclaim the area. In short, the grounds are starting to look a little wild. Though that does result in a different experience from what was originally intended, this unique park is still worth a visit. Some might even argue that the experience is more visceral now that the artwork and surrounding environment are becoming one.

A gently sloping path leads from the parking lot down into the 10-acre park. At that point, it branches off into a number of side trails. The sounds of nature are all around: birds singing in the trees, water gurgling in a nearby creek, a soft breeze sighing through the meadow grass. We even saw two deer grazing contentedly on the far side of an exterior fence. And everywhere we looked, there were sculptures.

Monarch probably has close to eighty outdoor sculptures representing a wide range of artistic styles. Modern, classic, quirky, humorous, ethnic, heart-warming, and more than a little surrealistic. Some are as small as a bowling ball; others, as tall and graceful as a willow tree. Some thrum with hidden energy. A few even sing out with the lyrical voice of a chime or temple bell. With area map in hand, we thoroughly enjoyed tracking them all down.

Monarch Sculpture Park is the dream child of artist Myrna Orsini. The idea came to her after several trips to Europe where she attended some workshops at which the artists lived, worked, and displayed their art all in one location. She wanted to establish a similar place here in the Pacific NW that would bring artists and the public together in an inviting natural setting. Land was purchased, a nonprofit organization was set up to oversee the project, and the park opened in 1998.

Unfortunately, in recent months, the park has suffered a series of setbacks. Orsini (now 70+ years old) is no longer able to care for or properly maintain the property–especially since the death of her business partner, fellow artist Doris Coonrod. The downturn in the economy certainly hasn’t helped either. All maintenance work is now being done by volunteers. Donations, of course, are gratefully accepted and additional funding is being sought by local communities in order to keep the park open. But some features and services have been curtailed or scaled back.

Monarch Sculpture Park is located at 8431 Waldrick Road SE, about ten miles outside of Olympia WA. Look for the metallic “Butterfly Tree” sculpture that marks the entrance. The Papillon Inside Gallery is open by appointment only from June 1st to October 1st. But the park grounds are open year-round from dawn to dusk. For a map and detailed directions to the park, please check Monarch’s website.

**Special Note: Be sure to bring along a sturdy pair of walking shoes. Though the trails are marked, they are no longer meticulously maintained. And don’t wait too long to visit. 


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