The realistic street-art statues of Seward Johnson first caught my eye about five years ago in Carmel, Indiana.
I spotted a figure perched on a bench in front of a downtown store, and it took a second look for me to determine that it was a statue rather than a real person!
It became a game for us to see how many of the figures we could spot around town, and we spent much of our time in Carmel enjoying Johnson's work and creating images of them.
I saw a few photos of an exhibition of Johnson's work a couple of months ago when travel writer Connie Reed shared her own story and images of Johnson's recent exhibition in Crown Point, Indiana.
The Crown Point display includes a dozen Johnson life-size statues in everyday scenes, as well as a 30-foot-tall sculpture from Johnson's Monumental Scale collection of President Abraham Lincoln in conversation with a "common man".
Imagine my surprise when I learned that one of Johnson's monumental works was appearing within two miles of my own home this month!
We cruised by the northeast corner of 13 Mile and Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak on the day scheduled for the statue's arrival to see Johnson's Embracing Peace in place on a truck as traffic slowly streamed past the recumbent World War II era couple locked in a an embrace and seemingly oblivious to the traffic obstruction they caused.
The 25-foot-tall piece depicts a scene with the couple celebrating the end of World War II in New York's Times Square.
When we drove back by the corner later that evening, the statue stood tall near a Royal Oak fire station and baseball field and by the future home of the city's Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial.
The display of Seward's statue is collaboration between the city, the WWII Legacy Memorial committee and the Seward Johnson Atelier in New Jersey, with some local funding from the owners of a local business (Jack and Annette Aronson, Garden Fresh Salsa).
Embracing Peace remains on display at the Royal Oak corner until late this year.
Sites of displays of Johnson's statues elsewhere in the Midwest this year include over 20 pieces in Saginaw, Michigan (continuing until September 6) and in Warsaw, Indiana (continuing through September 30).
Seward Johnson began his early career in art as a painter, eventually switching to sculpture and gaining fame for creating the life-like statues that often depict everyday scenes or iconic figures out of cast bronze.
More than 450 of his life-like cast bronze figures are in private, public and museum collections in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia or in public places like Rockefeller Center in New York City or as part of the street scene in places like Carmel in Indiana.
Carmel reportedly spent more than $1.4 million in taxpayer money to purchase public art that includes 15 statues from Johnson for permanent display over the past 10 years. The City began purchasing that statues in 2005, and it is the largest collection of Johnson statues in one place
The collection at Carmel includes a life-size version of the Embracing Peace couple installed in 2008 and reportedly costing $122,000.
Seward's work is not without controversy, however, and that includes the Embracing Peace statue.
Critics point to the statue's resemblance to the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo created on August 14, 1945 at Times Square in New York City and whether or not that image is in the public domain or differs enough from the original image to not be unduly derivative.
Visit http://sewardjohnsonatelier.org/ to learn more about Seward and his New Jersey studio.
Want to learn more about Seward Johnson and his work? Check out Celebrating the Familiar: The Sculpture of J. Seward Johnson by J. Seward Johnson or The Collection: The Sculptures of J. Seward Johnson by Paula A. Stoeke. Also see Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: A Self-Portrait by Alfred Eisenstaedt to learn about the photographer and his original image.
© Dominique King 2016 All rights reserved