By SHELLY WILKISON
An artist who says he was “rescued” by his hometown after a fire destroyed his livelihood more than 20 years ago, unveiled a gift to the community Saturday — the first addition to Liberty Hill’s International Sculpture Park in more than 30 years.
“Frozen Dance”, which was sculpted over three years by artist John VanCamp from Indiana limestone, was presented Saturday to the International Sculpture Park. The sculpture’s dedication was part of an event hosted by the Liberty Hill Development Foundation to commemorate the 1976 International Sculpture Symposium in Liberty Hill while ushering in a new era of community spirit through the arts.
VanCamp said it was that kind of spirit and pride in this place that prompted a community to rally around him after a fire destroyed his workshop and studio in 1997. The stone mason, who is reluctant to refer to himself as an artist because he said he received no formal training in the arts, had no insurance at the time and very little money.
“The next morning (after the fire), people began walking up to me and handing me $20 bills,” he recalled. “Basically, this town created the workshop I have on Main Street. I was humbled and honored when I was asked to donate a sculpture to the park.”
VanCamp, who now resides in Brownwood, said he hopes his contribution will help revive the dream of the late Mel Fowler to make Liberty Hill a world-class center for sculpture and art.
In 1976, Fowler spearheaded an effort to bring the world’s most talented sculptors to Liberty Hill to create a lasting treasure of giant art in honor of the US Bicentennial. He was able to rally the support of the community, attracted the attention of international media, and put Liberty Hill on the cultural map as well as on the books of the Smithsonian Institution.
At the conclusion of the fall 1976 symposium, the artists left their works as a gift to the Liberty Hill community. In 1987, the pieces were moved from downtown to the campus of what is now Liberty Hill Junior High and the park was rededicated by then First Lady of Texas Rita Clements.
Today, with the growth of the school district and campus expansions, the sculpture park will soon find a permanent home in the privately owned Lions Foundation Park where the Liberty Hill Development Foundation also has plans for a museum to house Liberty Hill history. The Foundation is seeking donations to help finance its future plans for the park and museum.
For many in the audience Saturday, the event was educational. About 50 attended the dedication, many of whom were too young to remember the 1976 symposium or were not living in the area at that time.
Foundation President Larry Nicholson shared the history of the park. Local historian Gary Spivey told stories about the symposium and the International Sculpture Park. And, former school superintendent Paul Curtis spoke of the school district’s willingness to house the artwork at what was then the high school campus.
The common thread throughout was the community’s willingness to work hard and work together toward a common goal — creating something positive for future generations to enjoy.