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The Hidden Gems of Rural WNY: Griffis Sculpture Park

Author: Nicole Murray

Just a short journey away from Ellicottville, an enchanting experience awaits those who visit Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, New York. The sculpture park was founded in 1969 by Larry Griffis, Jr. who was an exceptional businessman as well as an avid sculptor. Taking inspiration from watching his children play around the sculptures in Hadrian’s Villa in Italy, he returned to Buffalo with the idea of making art an interactive and immersive experience. After receiving a gift of 125 acres of land from his mother in Ashford Hollow, the park began with exhibitions of Larry’s sculptures, many of which remain at the park.

Over the last fifty-two years, Griffis Sculpture Park has grown to over 450 acres and contains more than 250 sculptures, making it one of America’s oldest and largest sculpture parks. The park is split into two sections: Rohr Hill and Mill Valley both of which feature hiking and walking trails for exploration. Many of the sculptures are climbable and children and adults alike can enjoy seeing a variety of art from up close or from far away.

Nila Griffis Lampman, granddaughter of Larry Griffis, Jr. is the Executive Director of the Ashford Hollow Foundation which runs Griffis Sculpture Park as well as the Essex Arts Center. Her incredible knowledge about the history of the park as well as her passion for continuing her family legacy is inspiring and if you have the opportunity to attend one of her tours, it comes highly recommended.

She notes that the park is divided into several areas: Trailhead, The Bathers, Insects, Amazons, Castle Tower, Griffis Family Heads, The Maze, and The Stage. Each section has its own set of sculptures and a distinct personality. All of the sculptures are made out of hearty materials such as steel and concrete to withstand the elements. Nila jokes that one of the questions she gets asked most frequently on tours is if the statues get taken inside during the Western New York winters, to which she laughs and says, “And where would we put them?”

Nila is incredibly excited about the return of live events to the Griffis Sculpture Park, specifically their Summer Festival which will take place on August 15th from 1 to 6PM. This year’s event is headlined by the power-pop group, “Mom Said No,” and will feature several other musical and spoken word performances. As evidenced by our other spotlight organizations, this event is yet another example of “creative placemaking” and bordering businesses in Ellicottville have come to enjoy an uptick in business during the festival. Families and groups come from all over the region to enjoy the festival and stay to check out local restaurants such as Ellicottville Brewing Company (*the author’s personal favorite brewery in the area) and attractions such as the Sky High Adventure Park at Holiday Valley.

To those interested in visiting Griffis Sculpture Park, it is open from sunrise to sunset and admission is $5 which can be paid via Venmo or PayPal or cash but only when the gift shop is open on the weekends. The park is carry-in, carry-out with no trash receptacles on the property. As Nila says, “You can spend an hour or spend the day, this park is what you make of it!” Find more information about Griffis Sculpture park here.

All too often, “Western New York” is a term used to describe the city of Buffalo and its immediate suburbs. Maybe names such as Clarence, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, and Lancaster come to mind. But if you take just a short 45 minute drive outside of any of these places, you’ll find that you’ve left the suburbs and hustle and bustle of city life far behind and entered the beautiful rural areas of Western New York.

These types of rural settings have historically attracted artists of all disciplines who have packed up their crowded city studios to seek an artistic retreat in the quiet countryside. Here you’ll find seasoned professionals as well as skilled artisans and craftspeople who have taken up a creative path, perhaps as a means to distill the beauty of the surrounding countryside. Arts events in these communities are well attended and serve to strengthen the local economy by drawing in large crowds from surrounding cities as well as bringing together those who live locally.

This month, we’re delighted to spotlight three organizations that are doing impactful work in their rural communities – Shake on the Lake (Perry, NY), North Shore Arts Alliance (Fredonia, NY), and Griffis Sculpture Park (East Otto, NY). We hope their stories inspire you to make the trip to one of their upcoming events so you can see these hidden gems of the Western New York arts community for yourself.

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