Sculptor Johnson passes away

Ginny and Dick Devore pose with the Felon at Jail Tree when it was still at J. Seward Johnson’s workshop in New Jersey. Johnson passed away March 10 in Florida. (Courtesy)

When world-famous sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr. died March 10, 2020, in Key West, Fla., the east coast media were sure to point his work such as a businessman in New York City, surfers at a Florida beach, and a student eating a sandwich on a curb in Princeton, N.J. What they failed to mention are the eight life-size figures of people and animals in realistic poses that grace the sidewalks in historic downtown Wickenburg.

Those statues – A Miner and his Donkey on Tegner Street, the Felon at Jail Tree, Cowboy and Girl in front of Bar 7 on Wickenburg Way, Young Teacher arriving by train on Frontier Street, Elizabeth Smith in front of her Vernetta Hotel, now the Hassayampa Hotel on Frontier Street, and the Vaquero strumming a guitar outside of 60 West Gallery on Wickenburg Way – came as a result of a brainstorming session in 2005 between Ginny and Dick DeVore and local leaders. There are about 16 link pieces in the form of rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, tarantulas, and roadrunners installed on the sidewalks and such in downtown as well.

The DeVores had been Wickenburg residents for about eight years in 2005 and were active patrons of the arts through the Desert Caballeros Western Museum and the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts. Wickenburg wasn’t the first nor the only town or city in which the DeVores added sculptures to a downtown venue. They had completed another similar project in Wichita, Kan., that included eight major pieces and 30 linking pieces.

The local project was completed when the Town of Wickenburg accepted the gift with the sculptures placed on public property on Nov. 20, 2008. The sculptures are interactive and can tell the public about themselves.

J. Seward Johnson’s sculptures possess an endearing feature of appearing lifelike. Many people have mentioned doing a double take near the corner of Tegner Street and Wickenburg Way for a more in-depth glance toward the Felon at Jail Tree. Johnson’s sculpture called “Double Check” of the businessman in downtown Manhattan was situated in Liberty Park near the World Trade Center when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred. The seated businessman was so lifelike that firefighters tried to rescue it in the aftermath, according to Johnson’s obituary that appeared in the New York Times.

The DeVore Foundation donated more than $1 million for the project and a maintenance fund for the artwork in Wickenburg. Ginny Devore died Feb. 17, 2013, and Dick DeVore passed on Feb. 1, 2016. It should be safe to assume the DeVores would be happy with the thrill the statues have given their admirers.

“We believe that (this) will enhance the Wickenburg downtown experience for residents and guests,” Dick DeVore said in 2006. “It should be a lot of fun and bring additional pride to the town.”

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