The Missouri Botanical Garden began not as an adornment to an estate but as a public botanical garden. Within the walls of these 79 acres, magnificent gardens and rare collections of botanical, horticultural and historical components reside with architecturally significant buildings and inspirational fountains and statuary. Founder Henry Shaw endowed his institution not only with summit standards for specimen collection and research, but also with his personal vision of a garden as a boon beyond science—to awaken the human spirit to a joyous experiencing of nature.
The Garden’s sculpture collection began in 1883 with the dedication of marble busts of Carl Linnaeus, Thomas Nuttall and Asa Gray by Howard S. Kretschmar as Linnean House pediment ornaments. Kretschmar, a native St. Louisan, taught at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University. Three other sculptures were commissioned for the Garden by Shaw, including Juno and Victory by Italian sculptor Carlo Nicoli. Juno, queen of the Roman gods and protectress of marriage, was made the majestic centerpiece of a sunken garden near the site of the present Gladney Rose Garden. Today, Juno stands at the center of the Victorian Garden near the Tower Grove House. The second Nicoli sculpture, Victory (of Science over Ignorance), is also near Tower Grove House in a limestone structure very similar to Shaw’s Mausoleum. The final commission by Shaw was Henry Shaw, Mausoleum Portrait, by German sculptor Ferdinand von Miller II, which is found in Shaw’s Mausoleum. Miller, sculptor and owner of the celebrated bronze foundry in Munich, had dined with Shaw at the Garden in 1871. He modeled the grave portrait from photographs Shaw sent him in 1882. The three heroic statues in nearby Tower Grove Park are also by Miller.
Today, the Garden displays some of the most distinctive examples of garden sculptures in the country. The present era of sculpture in the Garden is traceable to two large exhibitions from St. Louis collections held at the Garden. The Saint Louis Art Museum, Washington University Gallery of Art and private collectors lent a broad representation of sculpture to the Garden, including 30 pieces in 1965 and 35 pieces in 1972. Sculpture has become a familiar sight throughout the Garden. Pieces owned by the Garden are the gifts of generous friends; some donating the art, some donating funds for purchase and a few pieces are on an extended loan. Today, over 50 sculptural compositions are represented throughout the Garden. The collection is systematic chiefly in its objective of exhibiting sculpture in a variety of landscapes for the best advantage to art, garden and beholder.
Of special note is the striking Jacques Lipchitz representation of Pegasus, named Birth of the Muses, found on the path south of the Climatron®. Traditional garden sculpture is represented by several pieces. Amphitrite, by American sculptor Wheeler Williams, depicts a merbaby listening to the sounds in a shell. Child Sundial, anonymous, shows a daydreaming child figure with a sundial and is at ground level in a bed of creeping thyme. Birds is cast bronze and embodies birds in flight and is set on a stone of Tennessee marble. The Fountain Angel (1902) by Italian Raffaello Romanelli was installed at the Skinker Boulevard entrance to the 1904 World’s Fair. This bronze statue was restored in 1975 and moved to the Garden in 1976. The slightly smaller than human scale angel stands in a small basin within a plaza of white marble chips, with water flowing from urns in her hands.
Just over a century after Henry Shaw installed the first sculptures at Missouri Botanical Garden in 1882, the Milles Sculpture Garden was inaugurated, featuring a time-honored scheme of stroll ways through three ponds, marked with seven works by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. The figural pieces represent work from his early, middle, and late years. Two Girls Dancing (1914-1917) is Milles’ earliest work in the Garden. Later works Sunglitter (1918) and Orpheus Fountain Figures (Male and Female) (1936) border on the east and west of the three angels with musical instruments, from 1950, in the center basin. The reflecting pools and statuary are accented by seasonal plantings: tulips in spring; annuals in summer; chrysanthemums in fall; and water lilies, which peak in August and September.
Japanese gardens have evolved from centuries of tradition and many cultural influences as a uniquely Japanese art form. A reverence for nature through symbolic worship of trees, rocks and streams, and the concept of a garden as a symbolic version of nature, characterize the simplicity of Japanese art. Japanese stone lanterns are a sculpture form used in the Japanese Garden. The land and water forms, and raked patterns in dry-garden pebbles, also are sculptural. Japanese lanterns and stone accessories are established sculptural forms displayed to cast a flickering light, display snow (thought of as the winter flower) or to extend over water. Seiwa-en, the “garden of pure, clear harmony and peace,” combines traditional Japanese garden elements: lanterns, walkways, a teahouse and rocks positioned with delicate care in the lake. Each partakes of sculptural character and craftsmanship.
In 2006, the Garden presented “Glass in the Garden,” an exhibition of blown glass sculptures by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. The spectacular 928-piece Missouri Botanical Garden Blue Chandelier, 2006 is permanently suspended in the Ridgway Visitor Center atrium. Chihuly’s Walla Wallas were purchased for the Garden, where the onion-shaped glass floats in the central axis reflecting pool during warm weather months. Several graceful, amber-colored Sunset Herons were also purchased and are displayed inside the Climatron.
In 2007, "Chapungu: Nature, Man and Myth" featured 23 contemporary stone sculptures of families, animals and creatures of legend carved by the Shona artists of Zimbabwe. In 2001, 66 stone pieces from the Chapungu Sculpture Park in Zimbabwe were shown at the Garden. The Garden acquired two large Chapungu sculptures: Protecting the Eggs by Damian Manuhwa, and the touching work Sole Provider by Joe Mutasa. The latter was donated to the people of the United States by the people of Zimbabwe and Chapungu Sculpture Park in memory of the victims of September 11, 2001.
A life-size bronze by acclaimed African-American sculptor Tina Allen of California is the focal point of the George Washington Carver Garden. The six-foot-tall statue shows a mature Carver of about 65 years old, wearing a lab jacket and a wise, gentle expression as he holds an amaryllis flower to the sunlight. Allen’s other sculptures include Sojourner Truth, Alex Haley and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Use many senses to discover the splendor of sculpture at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Splashing joyfully from Ridgway Visitor Center to Tower Grove House are fountains fluctuating from a sparkling tower of water jets to low bubbling outlets. Bell Chimes by American Paolo Soleri is a hands-on sculpture of a bronze tree-form supporting Soleri bells, which offers gratifying tones and friendly form for touching during every season in the Zimmerman Sensory Garden.