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Art in the Parks

by Sarah Miller

Joseph Dreher in Hampton Park.

A little known fact about Charleston’s beloved Hampton Park is that John Olmstead, the nephew-turned-adopted-son of Frederick Law Olmstead, designed it. Now, if you don’t recognize the name Frederick Law Olmstead then maybe you’re familiar with some of his life’s work—Central Park, the Niagara Reservation, over a dozen American universities, and the Capitol Hill grounds. Olmstead and his children designed hundreds of outdoor spaces throughout America until the 1920s.

Even 112 years after its completion, Hampton Park’s 60 acres of rich history, lush vegetation, and dynamic use of space provide a green haven for its visitors. If you’ve frequented the park recently, you may have noticed a few artful additions to the southern lawns facing Mary Murray Boulevard. In a combined effort between the Charleston Parks Conservancy, Redux Contemporary Art Center, City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, and ArtFields, large outdoor sculptures by Georgia based artist Joseph Dreher were installed.

Dreher created four freestanding, semi-transparent portraits inspired by local schoolchildren and members of the Boys and Girls Club for his installation titled “Plant Vitae.” The sculptures consist of vibrantly painted wooden faces sandwiched between layers of engraved cast acrylic sheets. The colorful acrylic exposes etchings of children’s drawings, maps of the Lowcountry, and plant life.

His goal was to capture Charleston residents in a way that celebrates our people and our community. “People are my primary interest,” explains Dreher. “It’s my appreciation for people that informs so much of my creative work. [It] is always multidimensional because I see a world where people are not flat. They are not obstacles, or heroes, or rogues, or saints. They are people—dimensional and deep.”

A natural fit for the Charleston Parks Conservancy’s first ArtFields prize, Dreher’s inspiration encompasses elements of the Conservancy’s mission to inspire the people of Charleston to connect with their parks to create stunning public spaces and a strong community.

Next up on the docket for the Charleston Parks Conservancy’s Art in the Parks program is the upcoming revitalization of the West Ashley Greenway and Bikeway. To add to the Conservancy’s efforts, the National Endowment for the Arts has granted $50,000 for the public art component of this project. The Speedwell Foundation has pledged $100,000 towards enhancing the 10.5 mile trail that runs along a former rail line between the Stono and Ashley rivers.

If you’d like to become involved with the Charleston Parks Conservancy then look no further than their website, You’ll find that whether it’s getting dirty in the gardens, promoting community events, educating, or just having a good time with like-minded people, the conservancy has a place for all Charlestonians.

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Posted in Visual on November 1, 2018 (Fall 2018) by Matt Mill.

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