The splendor of America’s landmarks has gained worldwide recognition, and it’s no great wonder why. Our nation includes such impressive sights as the impossibly large Grand Canyon, the pristine beaches of Hawaii, and the always iconic Empire State Building. But sprinkled within our cities are public sculptures and murals so compelling that they too deserve attention, an encounter, or even a dedicated visit.
Eastgate (Denver, Colorado)
Commissioned for Denver’s Cole-Clayton 39th Avenue Greenway, Eastgate spans a major roadway, forming a celebratory entrance to the recreational grounds and protected waterways that unfold to its west. Artist DeWitt Godfrey constructed this piece in 2021 to resemble a grand ribbon of steel that appears industrial yet strangely organic. As Denver Public Art explains, this sculpture “is grounded in responding to the environment of the physical site, the abstract geometry of the natural world, and community engagement.” Its construction also retells Denver’s pivotal role in America’s railway development. Eastgate is an optimal spot for visitors to take in the city’s urban structures and natural beauty, which this massive art-as-architecture piece frames perfectly.
Keeper of the Plains (Wichita, Kansas)
The Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers divide at the feet of this majestic American Indian figure, which presides over the city of Wichita. Made of forty-four feet of steel atop a carved rock pedestal, this figure honors the sacred lands of the native people and reflects on Wichita’s complex, storied history. If you’re eager to view this impressive sculpture, you can take photos from one of the various bridges and lookouts spanning across the two rivers. For an immersive and majestic experience, join onlookers at the foot of the sculpture at 9:00 p.m., when various water features flow and the Ring of Fire around the titular Keeper ignites.
Poe Returning to Boston (Boston, Massachusetts)
This dynamic depiction of acclaimed writer Edgar Allan Poe walking through the streets of Boston accompanied by a huge raven is appropriately grim for the author’s work. “With a trunk full of ideas and worldwide success, he is finally coming home,” writes the sculpture’s artist, Stefanie Rocknak, on the accompanying plaque. Across the street from the famous Boston Common, this site is also the perfect marker of one’s arrival at Edgar Allan Poe Square—a promenade rich with art.
While many adore the fine craftsmanship of Poe Returning to Boston, others speculate about the subject’s warily fearful expression. Lori Goldstein of the Public Art Archive notes that this piece “harkens to the writer’s complicated sentiments towards his hometown” and tells a story of Poe’s fascinating legacy. The statue may intrigue spectators to learn more about Poe’s personal story and the art history of one of America’s oldest major cities.
Seven Magic Mountains (Nevada)
If the sumptuousness of Las Vegas doesn’t appeal to you, look no further than the Seven Magic Mountains art piece located about half an hour south of Sin City. A vibrant sculpture set against the starkness of the Mojave Desert, these towering, multicolored stacks of boulders built by artist Ugo Rondinone represent the human presence in a natural landscape. Standing beside the bustling Interstate 15, you could very well comprehend its unusual balance of technology and nature. Visitors are encouraged to park and walk through the grounds to examine these colorful towers that extend over thirty feet into the desert sky.
Spoonbridge and Cherry (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
The stellar frontman of the Walker Art Center’s magnificent art collection, Spoonbridge and Cherry is as amusing as it is iconic in Minneapolis itself. Spanning over fifty feet, this aluminum-and-stainless-steel sculpture depicts a ripe, red cherry set precariously on the tip of a silver spoon, as if a titan figure were to scoop it up for a bite. Even more eccentric, the stem of the cherry is a fountain that streams water into the pond below. Artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen erected this piece to be the quirky centerpiece of the Walker’s Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, adding levity to both the more serious art surrounding it and the business district looming in the background. This piece has since become a local favorite for its subtle humor and originality.
Transit art (New York City)
New York City’s generous Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) system connects visitors to such famous settings as Times Square and Central Park. But when you’re taking a ride on one of its trains, set aside time to enjoy the journey itself. Fine art by acclaimed artists and up-and-coming names alike lines stations and platforms throughout the city.
Patricia Walsh of Americans for the Arts calls the MTA Arts & Design Program “just one of many examples of what happens when the arts are brought into large infrastructure projects, making them more friendly and beautiful.” Some of the most stunning originals include Metropolitan Faces at the 57th Street Station and Funktional Vibrations at 34th Street–Hudson Yards. But just about every stop offers something wonderfully creative and moving to examine.