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The perfect place for leaf-peeping: Griffis Sculpture Park

TWIST AND SHOUT — Hiking to the top of one of the hills at the Griffis Sculpture Park in Ashford Hollow and East Otto rewards visitors with a sprawling view of the hills and valleys of Cattaraugus County. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
EAST OTTO — Leaves have started turning, temperatures are crisper in the mornings and pumpkin spice flavors have hit the coffee shop shelves. Fall is in the air and outdoor options abound for people who want to enjoy the area’s natural wonders in all their colorful glory, for just a little bit longer.

One of these is the Griffis Sculpture Park in Cattaraugus County, a 450-acre park located in Ashford Hollow and East Otto. The sprawling park is split into two sections, the Rohr Hill Road Site and Mill Valley Road Site, each of which is available for visitors of different physical abilities and preferences. The Rohr Hill Road area features large sculptures nestled within fields and woods a short walk from the road, whereas the Mill Valley Road site gives visitors the option of hiking into the park through terrain that ranges from smooth walking trails to more strenuous altitudes.

WHAT A VIEW — Griffis Sculpture Park is dotted with hundreds of sculptures created by dozens of artists, many of them local.
The park is open from dawn until dusk, every day until Oct. 31, offering visitors the chance to see the artwork in a colorful autumnal setting.

Director Nila Griffis Lampman said that she considers the autumn to be the “perfect time to go visit the park.

“We’re a great weekend destination for families who want to view the fall colors. The park is one of the area’s premier areas to view the fall foliage,” she said. “It’s a little bit cooler [in the fall], so it’s a nice time to hike up to the top of the hill and see the sculptures sort of sprawled out in front of you, with all the colors in the hills and valleys as a backdrop.”

The sculpture park, which was started by Larry Griffis Jr. in approximately 1965, was inspired by the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa in Italy, where Griffis studied bronze casting. The artist watched his children playing in the sculptural ruins and “realized the importance of physical interaction with artwork in an always-changing natural setting,” according to the park’s website.

The park was first located at the top of Kissing Bridge Ski resort, and then the park landed in Ashford Hollow between Springville and Ellicottville. In its current incarnation, the Griffis Sculpture Park started on 125 acres of farmland that was gifted from Griffis’ mother Ruth.

As the years went on, the park grew and expanded to accommodate more art and a greater volume of visitors. Today, more than 250 sculptures by more than 100 artists can be found on the park’s grounds.

“It’s always interesting to view the sculptures during different seasons, because they change dramatically over time,” Lampman explained. “In the spring, the background is really stark and they stand out sharply. In the summer, the landscape is so lush and vivid and in the fall, of course, the leaves are so beautiful and add some very rich color.”

The sculpture park and the Essex Art Center are now run by the Ashford Hollow Foundation, a family operation since its inception. Griffis left the park as his legacy to his youngest son, Simon Griffis, after the patriarch passed away.

The younger Griffis led as director for 10 years, during which time he developed arts in education programs for young artists in Western New York, established international sculpture exhibits, the first traveling sculpture show in WNY, an international sculpture symposium and oversaw the acquisition of new sculptures, as well as the creation of the Studio for Youth, where young, disenfranchised artists may learn how to create metal sculptures.

For the past two years, Lampman has served as director of the foundation, after Simon Griffis passed away suddenly.

FALLEN AND I CAN’T GET UP — The sculptures at Griffis Sculpture Park are scattered throughout the grounds for visitors to touch, climb on and experience firsthand.
“It was very unexpected for my family and I happened to be teaching at a college part-time, at the time. I was always involved with the organization, really since childhood, and I was able to take over, at that time,” said Lampman.

Today, both the Griffis Sculpture Park and the Essex Art Center are hosts to many local artists, community organizations and events, international art exhibits and arts in education outreach.

Lampman said one of those events is the international sculpture symposium, which took place in the 1990s and could be in the works for the future, as well.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS — Many of the sculptures are climbable, with hollow interiors or passageways for children to explore.
“Our curator, Ken Payne, is very involved with multiple sculptors internationally and is looking to get that started again,” she said. “It involved sculptors from across Europe and was a really wonderful event.”

As director, she said her mission for the park and the foundation is to continue focusing on arts in education and creating more events to bring visitors to the park.

“You still run into people who don’t even know we’re here or what we’re about, so we’re looking into partnerships with other organizations in the community, to get the word out,” Lampman said. “We’re looking into stainability methods, sustainable income options that can be mutually beneficial relationships with community groups to create a better environment in which we can serve the community.”

More information about the park and the sponsoring foundation, including hours, maps and event listings, can be found on its website, www.griffispark.org.

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