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.
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?
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.
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.
Image 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.
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.
Source – 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.