Pyramid Hill is a Cincinnati cultural rarity. One of the only sculpture parks in the country, Pyramid Hill was founded in 1987 by Harry T. Wilks, a local man who wanted to preserve the land surrounding his underground home, which is topped with a glass pyramid. Wilks purchased 40 acres adjacent to his home (eventually adding more) and created the sculpture-filled haven we now call Pyramid Hill.
Director of Park Operations Shaun Higgins took a few moments away from readying Pyramid Hill for the annual Holiday Lights on the Hill to chat with us about this unique area destination.
AW: Thanks for chatting, Shaun! Let’s jump right in—tell us about this year’s round of Holiday Lights on the Hill.
SH: We started decorating right after the Art Fair at the end of September. The crew creates lighting displays and effects that utilize the ponds, gardens, trees and sculpture. Something new this year for the two-mile round trip: we’ve added computer-controlled areas to create flow and movement. The show runs every night through January 3, including holidays.
AW: Can we visit the sculptures during the winter?
SH: Absolutely, we are open every day of the year, weather permitting. The park and the sculptures take on an entirely different feel when the leaves are gone and there is snow on the ground. I recommend taking a winter hike to experience the crisp calmness of winter and the unique look and feel of the sculpture with a different angle from the sun and even snow clinging to the art.
AW: What exactly will we see at Pyramid Hill?
SH: We are a marriage of art and nature. We are a 300-plus acre outdoor museum, featuring 60 pieces of monumental sculpture as well as hiking trails. Our Ancient Sculpture Museum is a 10,000 square-feet indoor museum housing Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian pieces that date back to 1550 B.C. as part of our permanent collection.
AW: Whoa! Where did all of the pieces come from? And, how did Pyramid Hill come to be?
SH: Our founder, Harry T. Wilks originally purchased approximately 40 acres just outside of Hamilton as a place to retire. He built a unique underground home that has been featured in Architectural Digest and the HGTV program, Extreme Homes. His home is highlighted by a large glass pyramid to let in natural light. It occurred to him that if he didn’t do something to preserve the land around him, it could become another development. Through his love of art and nature, this man of vision started developing plans for a sculpture park. He started purchasing more land, researching sculptors and their work. He acquired pieces, commissioned some and put together a board of like-minded people to form the board of trustees. In 1997 we were incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit. Harry spent the second half of his life working on the park until his death in March 2014.
AW: What a great legacy. Looking ahead, what is up next at Pyramid Hill?
SH: We have acquired a large piece by George Sugarman titled Garden of Sculpture. Garden of Sculpture comprises multiple pieces, as the name suggests, and encompasses a space of around 150 square feet. It is very interactive, in that you can walk around and through it and sit on the benches that are part of the sculpture. So you can be part of the sculpture and be enveloped in the art. We are still in the installation process because it will require some landscaping for the piece to become part of the natural setting. We are very conscious of the natural framing of the art. [Additionally, we recently welcomed] Jeni Barton, our new co-director, [who] has come to Pyramid Hill with new programs and ideas to engage our guests as well as artists. For instance, she has developed a new program for a monthly artist exhibition series that will start in early 2016. As an artist and art administrator, she is injecting new possibilities and growth.
AW: Amazing. What can you suggest for us to first visit at Pyramid Hill?
SH: I have two favorites right now, because they are newer to us. I am enjoying showing off “Shhh” by Chakaia Booker. It catches people off guard because they don’t realize it is made of tires. She has created various textures and surface area with the found objects. And someone pointed out to me her use of negative space, the open area in the center. My other favorite right now is “Skybound” by Barton Rubenstein. “Skybound” is a series of diamond-like shapes that appear to be floating above the ground. Throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky, there are different highlights gleaming on the stainless steel piece. The shadows change as well creating a new look throughout the day.
AW: We can’t wait to visit!