Drawing upon the work of J. Seward Johnson, the town of Wickenburg (AZ) has successfully connected the past to the present.
Walking through the downtown streets, we encountered super-realistic life-sized sculptures representing people and scenes from the Old West. Just past the railroad depot we saw this teacher arriving from the East to begin work in the Wickenburg school in the early 1900s. Within a year of arriving, this teacher, like many of the others before her, will marry. When she does, she will no longer be retained as a teacher.
Just down the street, Mrs. Elizabeth Smith, the original owner of the Hassayampa Hotel is shown welcoming her guests. She had arrived in Wickenburg in 1897 and worked at the Baxter Hotel where her excellent cooking attracted local attention. Santa Fe Railroad officials encouraged Elizabeth and Bill Smith to build and open their own hotel across from the railroad depot to provide food and lodging for travelers. They did just that, and the hotel became known for its fine cuisine and atmosphere.
Seward Johnson lives in New Jersey and is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He has been creating his art for more than 30 years. With his sculptures, he celebrates the common man and simple pleasures. He has created over 200 different statues made from cast bronze, and it may take up to two years for him to complete one piece.
Early towns often had no jails, and the townspeople could not use an existing adobe building as a jail because the prisoners could dig through the adobe and escape. So, in Wickenburg's case, the townspeople would chain prsoners to a large mesquite tree where they could sit in the shade until they had sobered up, had served their sentence, or until they could be transported to the nearest jail in Prescott. This represents Wickenburg's Jail Tree.
In front of the Golden Nugget Loounge, the vaquero with a guitar provides an evening seranade to passers-by.
Johnson, born in 1930, is the founder of Grounds of Sculpture, a 35-acre art park in Hamilton, New Jersey, featuring such artists as Witkin, Caro, Segal, and Abakanowicz.
His work has been described by Judy Hedding of Phoenix as "simply delightful. They seem like old friends to me, and I am strangely excited when I see one that I've not seen before. People are drawn to the statues. Strangers, old and young, speak to one another and smile a lot. What could be better than that?"
Outside the Bar 7 Lounge, we interrupted a conversation between a cowboy and a dance hall girl. We quickly moved on.
On North Tenger, we passed a miner and his donkey. The donkey seemed to be weighed down as they returned from their mining activity in the late 1800s.
I wanted to ask the fellow about the discovery of the Vulture Mine by Henry Wickenburg in 1863, but he seemed very secretive and unaware of my presence.
During our walk, we had to pay special attention to other works of Mr. Johnson in order to avoid tarantulas,
Mr. Johnson has drawn us into Wickenburg's history.