ON A RECENT SUNDAY afternoon at Quiet Waters Park, a brisk autumn wind shimmied the leaves and carried the shouts of children into the air. Boaters paddled canoes and kayaks on the South River, while youths pedaled bikes past oblivious couples walking hand in hand. My daughter Lucy and I, meanwhile, were happily sculpture-hunting.
Interspersed throughout this 336-acre Anne Arundel County park, from its entrance to water's edge, are 15 outdoor sculptures. Some works fit so seamlessly into their settings that visitors almost miss them. "There's another one," Lucy called out, pointing to the hill above the visitors center parking lot. From a distance, "Black Bart," by Alan Waters, looks menacing, hulking in the shadows of its treeful background; up close, "Black Bart" is a puzzle, its steel structure of an earthen hue unraveling like wrapping paper from upright beams, with small, rust-colored balls cascading out of an open seam. Not knowing quite what to make of this abstract art, we admired it just the same.
Other sculptures defy convention, so that people don't always recognize a work of art when they see one. Just ask all those kids clambering up and over the sides of the 72-foot-long wooden ship built around a 65-foot-high living tree, representing a mast. Sculpture? What sculpture? Al Zaruba's "Hunting Light" sits astride a hill at the mouth of the park, as if to welcome parkgoers to Quiet Waters. "Hunting Light" is neither a functioning boat nor a piece of playground equipment (although climbing is allowed), but a carefully constructed art gallery whose interior chambers are etched with quotes and sayings about art and life.
Likewise, Rick Clement's "Poseidon's Gift," nine separate stones installed in the grass in the shape of a fish. Located at the overlook of the South River, this sculpture is Park Superintendent Michael Murdoch's "sentimental favorite, because it is so subtle and most people hardly know that it is there."
Murdoch initiated the Sculpture in the Park program shortly after Quiet Waters opened in 1990, out of his own love for such works and also because he realized the park was a wonderful canvas for sculpture. While Quiet Waters exhibits paintings and other works in its visitors center galleries, the park's sculptures are best viewed out of doors.
Artist Lisbeth Sabol agrees. Sabol's geometric figure, "The Waterbearers," is in the formal garden next to the visitors center. Autumn is a special time to view the sculpture, "when the intense colors of the trees . . . pick up parts of the colors of 'The Waterbearers' ' patina," she explained in an e-mail. "The changing light throughout the day changes the sculpture. In an outdoor setting, you never see the exact same sculpture twice." The garden includes three other pieces: Joe Mooney's "Peripatetic," in which large thin fragments of steel seem like clouds afloat; Claire McArdle's "Gaia Torso," a headless, armless form of the goddess; and Tom Severa's "Shackle," which looks like the insides of a tool kit welded together.
Roaming the park to discover the remaining sculpture has the feel of a treasure hunt -- and it's an excellent way to revel in the natural beauty of the property, which is designed for easy exploration. More than six miles of paved nature trails wind through secluded woodlands, leading to overlooks of both the South River and Harness Creek. Waterfowl and wildlife abound. Charming individual features blend smoothly into the pretty landscape, which includes a gazebo, footbridge, playground, reflecting pool, fitness course and private picnic pavilions.
Anyone wishing to embark on her own treasure hunt at Quiet Waters in the next few months will find "Black Bart," "The Waterbearers" and the other sculptures still on view. In another six months or so, however, Murdoch and the Friends of Quiet Waters Park plan to hold a juried competition to choose a fresh set of sculptures for the Sculpture in the Park exhibit, which changes every two or three years.
Over the years, Murdoch has heard parkgoers and staff criticize some of the art, only to come back later and tell him how much they enjoyed it. So the sculpture-loving park superintendent requests only that Quiet Waters visitors keep an open mind about the sculptures. "Take some time to look at and just be with the pieces."
QUIET WATERS PARK -- 600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., Annapolis. 410-222-1777. www.aacounty.org/RecParks/Parks (click on Quiet Waters Park link). To view the sculptures online, visit friendsofquietwaterspark.homestead.com. Open 7 to dusk; closed Tuesdays. Free for pedestrians, $5 per car.