NJ | Grounds for Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton

I’ve taken the NJ Transit train from New York City to Hamilton, NJ and back, maybe fifty times. At least forty of those times, I’ve been fooled into thinking that the human-sized sculptures of people scratching their heads while they stare at a giant sculpture of a tooth outside of the train station, were actually human. It wasn’t until years and years after making the journey to meet my family at home base (my grandmother’s) did I realize that the sculptures (there are also huge mariachi dancers when you turn into the train station) were there for a reason.

The reason is that there is a 42-acre sculpture garden just a few minutes from the train station. When I flew into NYC from Croatia and was flying out from NYC just a few days later for Jekyll Island, with a baby shower in North Jersey in between, I spent some time at my sister’s house in the Hamilton area. Per usual, I was sad about coming home from Europe and my sister had the great idea of finally visiting Grounds for Sculpture together. It’s something she’s been wanting to do for a while and it was something that made me feel like I was still traveling as there was plenty to explore.

The sculpture park is completely unassuming, even though it welcomes 2 million visitors a year. If it weren’t for the train station, I would have never known it to be there, even though I’ve been to the area at least once a season for the last 32 years. In fact, my cousins who grew up there have never been either, which is surprising considering we had an absolute blast at Storm King Art Center, a sculpture park north of NYC, a few years ago.

Below are grounds for why you, too, should visit Grounds for Sculpture:

Creative Restaurants

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton NJ

Stephen Starr (the gentleman behind Buddakan, the Continental, and Morimoto), is responsible for dining at Grounds for Sculpture. Katie and I walked through an area inspired by Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, France, complete with lilypads, a rowboat, and a bridge to get to Rat’s, a “country French cuisine” restaurant, where I suddenly felt like I was back in Europe. We each had a bellini to start and were totally into the flavored butter. Katie loved her Croque Madame {Parisian ham, fried egg, sauce morney, brioche} and I loved my Tarte Flambee {fromage blanc, marinated fennel, pancetta, roasted figs}.

While Rat’s is inspired by Monet, the Van Gogh Cafe in the visitor’s center is clearly inspired by another of my favorites, with a “Starry Night”-themed ceiling, coffees, crepes, and pastries. Katie and I both got chai and a treat to go on our way out.

Rat’s and Van Gogh Cafe can be visited without buying a ticket to the park and there are a few sculptures in the surrounding area on view if you choose to do that instead of the whole experience.

Secret Gardens

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton NJ

There’s no set path to visit Grounds for Sculpture so Katie and I wandered around, walking in whatever direction called out to us. Within the park, there are passageways through trees, statues hidden behind walls of hedges, and doors you can open and walk through to discover more secrets.

Life-Sized Humans

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton NJ

Just as I was frequently fooled by the human sculptures outside of the train station scratching their heads about the giant tooth, I was fooled a few times within the park. Humans are everywhere, each by artist Seward Johnson, who brought all of this work together in the first place. The first one that tricked me was a couple about to smooch in a stone passageway. Then there were people picnicking, including one without clothes on,  a painter with an easel, and a man sleeping on a bench with a newspaper over his face. Eventually I realized that I’d seen Seward Johnson’s work before, as some of his life-sized humans were displayed throughout Times Square when I was taking my Fluent City French lessons there.

Large-Scale Sculptures

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton NJ

One of the coolest things about sculpture gardens is the ability to host large-scale projects that would look wackadoo or not even fit through the doors of a conventional museum. While there are definitely pieces that could fit in your own living rooms (okay, well not if you live in NYC), there are pieces that would fit no where else but where they are on the old state fair grounds in NJ. Many of them are by Seward Johnson himself, including the two end ones above.

Indoor Exhibits

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton NJ

The only indoor exhibit when we were visiting was Radiant Landscape, two site-specific pieces made of hundreds of tiles of glass by artist Daniel Clayman (on view until Feb 2018). I recently realized how cool glass is at the Corning Museum of Art, so this was cool for me to see. Another exhibit that was being worked on while we walked by is Joyce J. Scott’s Harriett Tubman and Other Truths with Scott’s stunning beadwork.

Art Inspired by Art

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton NJ

I was pumped to see sculptures inspired by some of my favorites at Grounds for Sculpture, including a 3-D version of Munch’s Scream that you can see the reverse of on the other side of the wall, a sculpture inspired by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus with smoke coming out of it, and figures inspired by Henri Matisse‘s The Dance.

If you catch the right NJ Transit train, you can get to Hamilton from New York City in just an hour. If you catch the wrong train, it’ll still only take an hour and a half. What my sister and I didn’t know until we were leaving was that you can walk around with a glass (or two) of wine while you enjoy the art. Now, you have no reason to skip this adventure.


Thank you, Grounds for Sculpture for the media passes. Opinions are always my own.

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