11 Jun Life-Like Seward Johnson Sculptures

American realist J. Seward Johnson has been creating life-like sculptures since 1968.

His work could be described as Norman Rockwell come to life, except this time you’re likely to do a double-take.

That’s because Johnson’s sculptures look very real.“I use my art to convince you of something that isn’t real,” Johnson notes on his website. “You laugh at yourself because you were taken in, and in that, change of your perception. You become vulnerable to the piece and intimate with it in a certain way.”

“They look like real people doing ordinary things,” said Vicki Essenmacher, vice president and program coordinator for the Wexford Public Library.

The library and the City of Cadillac have teamed up to host 11 of Johnson’s life-like sculptures. They will be placed throughout downtown Cadillac and along the Lake Cadillac shoreline June 1 through August 31.


It’s the only J. Seward Johnson traveling exhibit to visit Michigan this year, an opportunity Essenmacher jumped at.

“A couple of years ago I saw this permanent exhibit at an Indiana city. I loved it so much that I investigated and found out who the artist was. I asked, ‘Why can’t Cadillac have this? It’s so cool,’” Essenmacher recalled.

“Unfortunately, cost prohibited us from having a permanent exhibit, so I applied for a traveling one, subsequently got some grants and here we are.”

Those grants came from donations by the Rotary Club of Cadillac, the Lakin/Weeks Fund for the Humanities and an endowed fund of the Cadillac Area Community Foundation.

While on loan from The Sculpture Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing exhibitions and landmark public artworks for communities, these bronze pieces will be placed throughout the community for the public to enjoy at its leisure.

“There’s such an attention to detail and humor,” said Essenmacher. “For instance, the one at the garden features an artist drawing on a canvas, and this man is standing behind her looking over her shoulder.

“At the Dairy Queen, there’s a girl with an ice cream cone and someone – who appears to be her brother – is grabbing her hand to take a lick.”

The sculptures are just a sample of Johnson’s series, “Man on the Street,” which features everything from children and families to musicians and city workers.

Johnson started his artistic career in painting, but moved into the threedimensional. Since then, he has created over 250 sculptures that have appeared in private and public collections throughout the world, including New York’s Rockefeller Center and the Via Condotti in Rome.

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