Wander 80 acres of art

There are plenty of outdoor arts festivals in the South Sound each summer - but only one of them also includes an 80-acre park dotted with as many as 90 huge sculptures.

This Sunday is Art in the Park day at Monarch Sculpture Park, a nonprofit outdoor sculpture garden southwest of Olympia, and it’s a day when international sculpture is complemented by live music, art and dancing.

“We’ve been doing Art in the Park for 14 years now,” says Myrna Orsini, Monarch’s founding director. Orsini, herself a sculptor, started Monarch with a stone-carving symposium inspired by ones she had attended in Europe. The 13 attendees donated work to the park, and from those beginnings Orsini has created an outdoor sculpture gallery featuring about 140 local and international artists, with a large permanent collection and many others shown on commission.

Art in the Park is an annual day where Orsini celebrates new work added to Monarch. This year, three sculptures by Olympia metal artist team Margo Westfall and Don Lovett will find a temporary home at Monarch. The pieces include “Clematis 1 and 2,” two twining botanical wall sculptures made of recycled steel and shovels, plus the 7-foot-tall “My Foolish Heart” which made an appearance in Blaine for the Winter Olympics last year. The sculptures will stay at Monarch through October. Seattle artist David Nechak’s “Cyclops,” floating on Monarch’s pond, also debuts.

Another part of Art in the Park is a new show opening in Monarch’s indoor gallery. Open by appointment, the gallery is suitable for work that can’t endure the outdoors. This weekend, Orsini opens a retrospective of Seattle artist Valentine Wellman. Covering seven decades of his work, the exhibit runs the gamut of this adventurous artist’s media, including watercolors, oils, prints and metal sculpture, some of which is also outdoors in the park.

“Wellman’s work is very eclectic,” says Orsini. “He experimented a lot. His greatest pleasure has been in creating and discovering new materials and techniques to work with them. He really explores and pushes the limits of the material. We have everything from abstract to figurative to landscapes, but expressed in his own way.”

The artist will be at the festival from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Throughout the rest of the park, artists will set up booths, featuring work in everything from jewelry and metalwork to clay and woodcarving.

But the fun part of Sunday’s festival is the performance art, bringing the peaceful park to life. The day begins with a procession by Olympia band Lullabye Arkestra, followed by the Mas Uda belly dancers at 11:30 a.m. At 1 p.m. George Kenny, a chain saw carver and teacher based in Allyn, will give a demonstration, followed by an auction of his work. Then at 3 p.m. Michael Park leads a participatory drum circle.

Even without a festival, Monarch Sculpture Park is a fascinating place to wander. It’s not just classic hedges and pearly white figures, though they’re there too. Amble down the hill and you’ll find a giant croquet set, a Sacred Grove where you (like previous visitors) can tie a pink or orange ribbon to a prayer tree, a sound-garden with hanging bars just waiting to be banged with sticks, a butterfly maze and ladders that lead elf-like up the trees.

Brochures guide you through the many works and artists.

Monarch is definitely off the beaten track and will take up your whole day. But it’s worth the exploration – especially with a festival to boot.