Peeping through Time – Sculpture Continuum: A Playground Group

At Willow Road Elementary in Franklin Square, New York two abstract sculptures situated side by side grace the school’s entrance. The white forms are retired now from their original purpose. Once members of a larger troop their story stretches back over 50 years. In their days of glory they resonated with art lovers and children alike.

Willow St. Elementary School, Franklin Square, New YorkWillow Road Elementary School, Franklin Square, New York. Source – Google Maps.

Prior to being dispersed, the full collection of 13 abstracts was installed on the school grounds where kids climbed, cavorted and made dares on sculpted shapes designed for play while doubling as art. Or is it the other way around – art doubling as play?

School shotThe ‘Chunkies’ at Willow Road Elementary School, 1966. Source – Randy Treadway via worldfairscommunity.org.

The collection was purchased for the Long Island school sometime after 1965. Before that, the sculptures were an attraction at the Chunky Candy Pavilion at the New York World Fair in Flushing Meadows.

The individual sculptures were assembled in a particular array so that peepholes in the pieces provided sight lines that resulted in composite forms becoming visible to the viewer, separate pieces took on a single identity as shown in the photos below.
New York World's Fair

NYC World Fair InstallationThe Chunkies installation 1964 World’s fair. Source – Randy Treadway via worldfairscommunity.org. Click image to enlarge.

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This ingenious playscape was conceived and created by British artist Oliver O’Connor Barrett and originally exhibited in New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1962.

Array and CompositesImage from Whitney Museum of American Art cataloguee. Source – Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

The caption for the image above reads as follows:

Sculpture Continuum: Playground Group. View of the entire group of abstract forms is shown in the center. Grouped around it are the composite images which one sees when looking through specific apertures.

Barrett’s work was equally at home as a gallery showing, a World Fair corporate art piece and a public school playscape. It speaks volumes for its versatility, appeal and uniqueness. It’s possible that the artist may at one point have harboured thoughts of producing the sculptures in greater numbers as he registered a patent of the elephant and the man standing on his head.

US3126202-0US Patent 3,126, 202 filed August 9, 1962. Click image to enlarge.

There is no record of additional sculptures nor a great deal available on Barrett on the interweb. I noticed with interest that he wrote a children’s book, Little Benny Wanted A Pony, illustrated by Richard Scarry. I’d love to get a copy.

Below is the full text from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibit pamphlet.

Full TextSource – Internet Archive. Click image to enlarge.

These one of a kind play sculptures enthralled thousands of kids during their 1964-65 World Fair gig and many more during the years they were installed at their Long Island school home.

If you could make the climb to the top of the giraffe, you were “the coolest”. Can’t recall any bad accidents back then – Russ G

O’Connor had a passion for play, beauty and magic. Abracadabra – one, two, three – he could pull an elephant out of a hat.

Chunky elephantElephant through peephole at the Chunky Candy Pavilion – New York World Fair 1964-65. Source – Randy Treadway via worldfairscommunity.org. Click image to enlarge.

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6 responses to “Peeping through Time – Sculpture Continuum: A Playground Group

  1. Pretty good idea

    Dad

    • You’re up early this morning big guy. Yes, this idea looked like it created quite a bit of fun for kids. Seems like they had play spaces at quite a few of the world fairs/expos.

  2. Jonathan illingworth

    Connor barrett was my stepfather and I have some small colour photos of the playground at the world fair. I also have two copies of the little benny book as well! Thanks for showing this.

    • Hi, I’m glad you enjoyed seeing/reading this. I thought these sculptures were a kid’s paradise. What a wonderful concept. Would you consider making scans of the photos and book and sharing with me for a future post? I love it when these kind of connections happen. Thanks for reaching out. Cheers, Alex

      • Jonathan illingworth

        Hi, sorry about the delay, holidays and stuff. I have now found the books and some others, still looking for the world fair photos, but I will find them. What is the best way to share them with you?

      • Hi Jonathan, I know what you mean about holidays and stuff. I’ve been pretty busy too lately. Hope you enjoyed your time off. We went for a small road trip to Quebec and Ontario to visit family and friends.

        A couple of questions for your. Are you able to digitize a copy of the book in .pdf format, the photos as .jpgs? If so, do you use Dropbox? It’s a relatively easy way to share photos and you can set up an account for free. Otherwise you could send as attachments in an email. Let me know if you think this option could work. Thanks so much for getting back in touch. Cheers, Alex

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