WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE
JOHN SEWARD JOHNSON, JR.
This piece was commissioned by Arvin, the Columbus company that had headquarters in the nearby McKinley Building directly to the east, in remembrance of their first product, a tire pump. Cast in bronze, the clothing on the human figures is actual clothing preserved using a patina and lacquer process that the artist developed. See even more details below the photos…
Adapted from “Seward’s Follies” from The New York Times
By J. D. REED – June 30, 2002
JOHN SEWARD JOHNSON JR., known to all simply as Seward…a longtime Princeton resident, is best known as an accomplished, though controversial, sculptor whose uncannily realistic, meticulously worked bronze figures of postmen, matrons, policemen, doctors and businesswomen dot parks and plazas from Rockefeller Center to Hong Kong Harbor.
Mr. Johnson is a wealthy heir to the immense medical products fortune of Johnson & Johnson
Seward Jr., 72, is silver at the temples and a shade of tan that can be achieved only by sailing under canvas. He laughs frequently and delights in the gently off-color. He has been making sculptures since the early 1970s, and has placed over 500 of his works…with municipalities, hotels, airports, corporations, schools, and private collections.
His ”ordinary people doing ordinary things,” as he puts it, are so lifelike down to their crumpled brown bags and untied shoelaces that taxis sometimes stop for the bronze man hailing a cab outside the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington.
Unlike much public art, his work is not heroic. No larger-than-life forebears on pedestals or pigeon-decorated generals on horses for him. Instead, he brings sculpture down to ground level, where it celebrates the simplest human acts and attitudes. His figures nap on park benches, ride skateboards, bop to boom boxes, eat lunch, neck, and scratch their noses. One girl seated on a park bench reads a love letter from a boyfriend. But when a viewer looks carefully, he sees the name of a different boy on her ID bracelet. Another figure is unaware that his fly is unzipped, and one brazen fellow cheats at cards.
”I want my work to disappear into the landscape and then take a viewer by surprise,” Mr. Johnson said. ”After he gets over the shock of being fooled, it becomes an emotional discovery. Then he owns the sculpture. People often revisit their favorites. They become like friends.”
…Mr. Johnson’s own bronzes, which can take up to two years to complete, are not cast by applying plaster to living people as Segal did. The works are first molded as Plasticine figures about 12 inches