The works of world-renowned sculptor Seward Johnson can be found in cities all over the country, including several life-size bronze sculptures on display through February, 2024 in key locations in downtown Trenton. The outdoor art exhibit, “Celebrating the Familiar,” is a commentary on the everyday things in life — reading a newspaper, taking a photo, listening to music, playing an instrument, chatting with a friend, relaxing on a park bench.
The exhibit is hosted by Trenton Downtown Association with support from Isles and Trenton’s art community members.
Take a walk around downtown Trenton and explore these works of art, as well as the interesting locations where you’ll find them. They are all in fairly close proximity to one another so that you can see them all in one visit. Or make a point to revisit as often as you like. We think you will discover something new each time you engage with them. The idea is to have fun! The sculptures capture humanity and encourage engagement and discussion.
It’s fun to watch people stop and engage with the sculptures. And it’s interesting to learn about the artwork of Seward Johnson. But, of course, art is all about our own interpretations and experiences with it. It is our hope that through this unique public art installation, people take time to interact with one another, spend a few minutes of their busy days smiling and laughing, or encourage more people to visit downtown Trenton. There is so much to see and do in downtown Trenton. Each one of these sculptures will take you to an interesting location.
The brief guide below describes all nine works of art in the original installation, which was scheduled through November 2023.
Five sculptures—Holier Than Thou, Inner World, Outer World, Getting Down, Relish, Too? and Special Delivery—will remain in downtown Trenton through February 2024. We were so happy to learn of this extension, which makes it possible for more people to enjoy the artwork throughout the holiday season.
Stomp. Clap. Sing. Dance. Jam. Performance art comes in many forms. It can happen anywhere and be created using just about anything — our hands, our feet, our voices and, yes, musical instruments too. What kind of music do you think these two performers are making? Are they trying to earn a living or just having fun? Are they entertaining theatergoers before a show? Are they an extension of a show? The world is their stage.
Be sure to visit “Body Music” outside the Passage Theatre at the Mill Hill Playhouse. Passage Theatre Company is committed to creating and producing plays and arts programming that deeply resonate with and reflect the surrounding community, presenting diverse perspectives, inspiring audiences and invigorating the art of live theater.
Location: Passage Theatre, 205 East Front Street
The park bench is a common theme in Seward Johnson’s work. You will see many of his figurative sculptures doing everyday things on park benches, like reading a newspaper, taking a nap, eating lunch or meeting a friend. The name of this work, “Chance Meeting,” gives us a clue that this meetup could, in some way, have been serendipitous. Perhaps they were old friends who had lost contact years ago. Or new acquaintances who form a connection after starting a casual conversation on a park bench?
This work was installed, appropriately enough, in downtown Trenton’s historic Mill Hill Park. Mill Hill became famous in the late 18th century as the site of the Second Battle of Trenton. Does sitting on a park bench make you stop and take in the world and history surrounding you?
Today, Mill Hill Park is a popular spot for many local events, as well as a great place to enjoy nature.
Location: Mill Hill Park, 165 East Front Street at Broad Street
Some might say Johnson’s work is too “ordinary.” Yet, it is the very “ordinary” nature of his subjects that makes them so relatable, and so realistic that people have been known to start talking to them.
“I use my art to convince you of something that isn’t real. 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.” —Seward Johnson
You might be so taken by the very lifelike figure throwing out trash in “Holier Than Thou” that you lose track of time. And that’s OK because this sculpture is placed in front of one of a few historic clocks in the area. Can you spot all the clocks from the creek to the canal in downtown Trenton?
Location: Warren Street Plaza, 101 North Warren Street
Seward Johnson remarked that he often used a newspaper in his sculptures as “kind of a subtle joke—to disguise the fact the figure was not a living human—in the same way that some people use the newspaper as a wall to hide the fact that they are wanting to hide from people around them. A shield to say ‘not now—I need my time alone.’”
The artist deliberately made the newspaper customizable so it could reflect the location where it is shown. Does that impact the way you perceive this work?
You can find the sculpture of a man reading the Trenton Times at the Lafayette Garage Plaza.
Be sure to stop and take a closer look at the particular issue of the paper selected for the work. It depicts a joyous celebration in the capital city.
Location: Lafayette Garage Plaza, 201 South Warren Street
Seward Johnson had more than 200 works on display at his retrospective show held at Grounds For Sculpture in 2014. This included painted trays, maquettes, and life-size and monumental-size sculptures. What is “retro” about this sculpture at the Lafayette Garage Plaza? How does it encapsulate a moment in time?
There is so much rich history in downtown Trenton—another reason to get downtown this summer.
Location: Lafayette Garage Plaza, 201 South Warren Street
Every Seward Johnson sculpture is a photo session in the making. It’s hard not to ham it up for the camera—real or fake—when standing next to some of his whimsical works. Both the photographer and the subjects of “The Photo Session” are poised for Instagram-ready content. The next time you’re at Warren and West Streets, in front of Maestro Technologies, be sure to capture it with your camera phone. Don’t forget to hashtag #downtowntrenton.
Location: Near Maestro Technologies, 8 South Warren Street
Did you know the model for this piece is a Trenton/Hamilton local and small business owner? Seward Johnson was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2014 for his contributions to the arts in the state. His most recognized works depict common, everyday slices of life—like grabbing a slice of pizza or a hot dog from a food vendor, here in New Jersey or anywhere in the United States.
“Relish, Too?” is located just outside of the Starbucks Community Store, which supports the community by hiring local.
So be sure to stop in for a beverage or snack and, if you can, take a break at the nearby parklet. It will give you more time to notice all the details on the artwork, such as the realistic hot dog cart and the worker’s apron.
Location: Starbucks Community Store, 102 South Warren Street
Seward Johnson was known for his prolific sense of humor, and it certainly comes across in many of his sculptures. Can you find something humorous in “Special Delivery”? Can you guess why this sculpture was placed near City Hall? Have you heard of Post Office Alley? Hint: It’s not far from East State Street, where this sculpture is located.
We can’t help but wonder where the postman is heading. Where do you think his next stop is on his route? Drop us a line with all your guesses. No need to send it Special Delivery.
Location: Near City Hall, 319 East State Street
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