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New outdoor sculpture garden at Wells Fargo Center a natural fit

Just off Highway 101 north of Santa Rosa, between the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts and the Sutter Hospital complex, art is about to bloom.

The arts center’s new outdoor Sculpture Garden and Art Walk opens to the public June 6 with its first exhibit, “Root 101,” a display of 16 large sculptures fashioned from salvaged old-growth redwood by Timber Cove artist Bruce Johnson.

But this is more than another opening of another show. Laced with walkways, including two bridges, and dotted with raised mounds and a small knoll, the new space is meant to offer a place of solace.

It’s a quiet spot for show-goers, hospital patients and their families, visitors, tourists, and employees at the center, the hospital and other businesses in the area.

“I think it will prove to be a nice place to take in nature,” Johnson said. “When you step out of the hospital or when you’re arriving at a concert, you can wander through a unique space, dense with large sculptures.”

During a recent weekday lunchtime, some but not all of Johnson’s sculptures had been installed, and two Sutter employees in green scrubs walked through the partially completed garden area.

“I love it here,” said Heather Lopez of Cloverdale, who works as a supply-chain coordinator at Sutter. “It’s different every time we come here.”

Although Wells Fargo Center has maintained a permanent outdoor sculpture collection for decades, mostly in the courtyard near its main auditorium building, the sculpture garden will feature rotating art shows, just as a gallery would.

“The concept of the art walk, and this new garden space, is that it’s an exhibition space,” Johnson said. “Working on a large scale makes it difficult to work with galleries and museums, because everything takes too much space. This is a garden designed to accommodate large sculpture.”

Johnson’s redwood pieces, half of them new and half previously exhibited elsewhere, stand as high as 15 feet and will be on display for two years. For this and other shows, he has been working from a cache of 80 tons - “four, 40-foot flatbed truckloads” - of salvaged redwood he bought four years ago.

The Wells Fargo Center considers Johnson a natural choice for the sculpture garden’s inaugural exhibit because his work is so accessible to the public, said Kyle Clausen, the center’s marketing director.

“Bruce Johnson invites people to play,” Clausen said. “It’s interactive. He wants kids to be able to climb on the sculptures.”

One of Johnson’s pieces, “Temple Bus Stop,” includes a place to sit. Another sculpture includes a tower people can climb for a view of the grounds and countryside beyond.

Designed by Bill Mastick of Quadriga Landscape Architecture, the Wells Fargo Center Sculpture Garden and Art Walk includes 40 trees and more than 500 plants. The project is part of a four-phase, $10 million upgrade of the grounds and building, which gained momentum in 2013 with the renovation of the main auditorium.

“Visual art has always been a major part of the center’s mission,” said Anita Wiglesworth, director of programming a Wells Fargo Center. “The center has always wanted to keep a visual arts element on our campus. Sculpture is a very natural fit.”

Known mainly for its touring concert shows by name acts and its resident theatrical and other performance companies, the center also housed indoor museums for nearly two decades, until 2005.

The center’s permanent sculpture collection includes large works by Robert Ellison, Daniel Oberti and other nationally and internationally artists.

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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