Some places are just different — there’s a brightness to them, an energy, and they have the power to bring together people of all ages and all walks of life. They’re the lifeblood of our region, and over the year, we’ll be highlighting some of these special places across our service area. We’re calling them Hearts of the Hill Country — because when we’re there, we’re community.
The Liberty Hill International Sculpture Park, the first park of its kind in the Southwest, has had a long and interesting history, and it’s still around after more than 40 years. Today, it can be found outside of Liberty Hill Intermediate School, neighboring the Lions Foundation Park, but the sculptures weren’t originally created for school property. The idea got its start in 1975, thanks to local veteran and artist Mel Fowler.
“[Fowler] was quite an interesting character,” Williamson Museum Curator Ann Evans said. “He was a fighter pilot from World War II to the Vietnam War, but his second career was pursuing art, and he primarily created wonderful marble sculptures. He was a world traveler and got the idea for the park here in 1975 when he attended a sculpture symposium in Europe.”
Fowler wanted to create a sculpture collection for Austin, but after the city pushed back on his request, a local resident suggested that the project should live in Fowler’s hometown. The timing was perfect: In honor of Liberty Hill’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, Fowler brought his dream to life by inviting 26 sculptors from six different countries to create a timeless art collection. From October to December, artists lived with town residents while they completed these monumental pieces.
Twenty-five mid-century modern sculptures mostly made out of native granite and limestone graced Liberty Hill’s downtown area until 1987, when a school district employee asked if the “rocks” could be moved to Liberty Hill High School’s campus, which is currently the Liberty Hill Intermediate School. Now, there are 28 sculptures in the collection, thanks to donations from different sculptors over the past 30 years.
The park is cared for by the Liberty Hill Lions Foundation, and receives support from the city and the Liberty Hill Independent School District. Evans started organizing the park’s archives for the Williamson Museum in 2012, as a graduate student at the University of Texas. She’s now a full-time Williamson Museum employee and helped create a traveling exhibit about the park as well as enacting preservation efforts.
“It takes a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of dedication to preserve these sculptures,” Evans said. “We are in the long process of hiring a conservator to begin cleaning and restoring the sculptures. Once we have an estimated cost, then it’s fundraising money to get it done and it’s time for recruiting volunteers to actually help continue maintenance on the sculptures.”
That’s why Liberty Hill is hosting the second annual International Sculpture Festival on Oct. 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to raise funds and awareness about the importance of the sculpture park’s collection. Evans encourages everyone to attend the festival or visit the park anytime, because there’s nothing quite like it in the region.
“This isn’t just a heart of Liberty Hill; this is a heart of Central Texas,” Evans said. “It’s unique to this world, and preserving it is incredibly important to maintain Central Texas history. The sculptures are truly monumental and there’s nothing quite like seeing them in person.”