Haddonfield makes another leap into public art

Members of the Haddonfield Outdoor Sculpture Trust install

Members of the Haddonfield Outdoor Sculpture Trust install "Ballerina" by Barry Woods-Johnston on the traffic circle at Haddon Avenue and Ellis Street. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

For the last five years, about 20 sculptures have been installed in the borough of Haddonfield, New Jersey. On Wednesday, another was added to the collection: the life-size figure of a dancer.

It took five guys and a lot of power tools to wrestle “Ballerina” into place inside a traffic circle on South Haddon Avenue. Perched on one foot with her head and arms flung behind, she appears to be making a leap over the “Welcome to Historic Haddonfield” sign.

It’s a joyful piece. The figure seems to be ecstatic.

“This piece was inspired by a play that was in New York, called ‘Dance,’ back in the ’60s,” said sculptor Barry Woods Johnston. “It kind of stuck in my head. It was just expression – freedom of expression, really.”

Johnston made “Ballerina” almost 30 years ago, when he was staying in Italy. He carted it back to the states when he moved to Baltimore, and it’s been hanging around ever since. He allowed it to be displayed on the streets of Haddonfield for the next two years through an agreement with the Haddonfield Outdoor Sculpture Trust known as HOST.

The trust has been rotating sculptures through the borough for five years. Trust founder Stuart Harding said three more are on the way this year to join 12 already on display.

“Public art, in our opinion, is very very important. It adds another dimension. It doesn’t just deal to the visual, it deals to the soul,” he said.

The trust only borrows the sculptures; it does not buy them. But, over the years, two sculptures were bought privately and then donated to Haddonfield. One of those acquired pieces, “Uno” by Miguel Antonio Horn, depicts the armless figure of a woman embedded in stone.

Many of the pieces in the ongoing, rotating HOST exhibition are figurative works.  “Europa” by Joshua Koffman portrays the Greek myth, while Seward Johnson is represented with several works of contemporary people in pedestrian poses.

Other pieces are more abstract.  “Monk” by Harry Gorden appears to be two stacked granite boulders, and “Muse” by Joe Mooney features a ring of torn sheets of stainless steel.

“Obviously, there’s a couple that I didn’t get,” said Haddonfield Mayor Neal Rochford. “That’s OK. There’s a critical mass involved. If you have a diverse group of sculptures, you’re going to gravitate to some, but maybe not towards others. ‘Uno’ is my favorite, and the first.”

Johnston prefers to work in a realist, figurative style, rather than abstraction.

“Certainly it’s had some good effects, in composition and energy and some of the things modern art expresses, but I believe in humanity and human values. I think we’re sadly lacking in that area,” said Johnston, who first studied architecture. “That’s why I went into art in the first place, to try to bring humanity back to architecture.”

The borough of Haddonfield does not contribute public funds to HOST, but does support the program with town resources. Police officers, for example, blocked traffic during the installation of “Ballerina.” And Rochford said the sculpture program has helped Haddonfield’s bottom line.

“It’s difficult to measure, but there is an economic multiplier whenever you have culture or arts,” he said. “I can’t put a dollar amount on there, but anything you can do to enhance your streetscape, you’re going to draw from the region to come into Haddonfield.”

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