Sculptural Sing Sing

After dinner we followed the outdoor sculpture trail through downtown Ossining, all the way to the river. The town is celebrating its 200th year with all kinds of events and tours, but this seemed like the perfect way to mark a pristine late-spring evening, on a full stomach, wearing comfortable sandals and clutching a map that contained the artists’ philosophy for every one of 26 large-scale pieces.

washington school

I found myself being drawn to the environment around the sculptures as much as the works themselves. We walked up to Elizabeth Barksdale’s In a Sea of Grass, for example, and though I liked her justaposition of wood, steel and corrugated plastic roofing, what attracted me especially was the handsome building that served as its backdrop. Built in 1907 in the Beaux-Arts style, the Washington School was the educational heart of Ossining until the student base overflowed its capacity a quarter of a century later. I always like entablatures inscribed with words that someone at some time decided were central to the building’s purpose – here LANGUAGES stands at the forefront.

At the Ossining Public Library, which fortunately places no limit on the number of volumes card-holders can check out, I found a statue of myself.

woman library sculpture

Or at least it’s the elegant lady I’d like to see myself as, by Leonda Finke, and it’s also the most expensive piece in the show.

In front of the high school, sculpture and more distractions.


Chinese Firecrackers dangled from the broken branch of a big old pine on the front lawn. Did Fielding Brown choose the site because of the broken branch or break it as part of his art? Two songs danced through my head, Lucinda Williams’ Metal Firecracker (Once we rode together/
In a metal firecracker) and Ryan Adams’ Firecracker (I just wanna burn up hard and bright/I just wanna be your firecracker). Yet no sculpture could grab me in the gut as much as the mulberry tree at the path as we left, dropping its ripe berries to the stained sidewalk.


Childhood memories of tasting the fruit, spitting it out… over and over again. Why, I ask, would you try a mulberry more than once?

Across the street, a Havisham-cake in a mysterious bakery that always seems closed.

wedding cake

A few paces down stood a fine brick church with a sign that beckoned to me. .

church sign

A sculpture called Stamen had lemony chunks of glass lodged in it like the one in my garden Wizard Stick.

wizard sculpture

But calling to me from behind on the church door was a small interior-rhymed poem I liked more.

enter sign

My favorite work, called Let’s Roll, stood in the middle of a busy V.

welded peace sign

I liked as  much as  anything the sculptor’s statement on the back of my map. James Havens says:

I intend that my sculptures should contain enough information that the viewer is not confused or mystified by the artist’s intent. I wish to be considered a good journeyman ironworker who demonstrates a high degree of craftsmanship while using only the best materials to create enduring sculptures that speak to the highest aspirations of the human spirit.

The stainless steel symbol lives up to Havens’ intention, I would say, and I would like my own work to have a similarly high degree of craftsmanship.

welded cu

Now what? The shadows had elongated on Main Street. But the Hudson at Ossining was still golden.

ossining riverfront

Sculptures were strewn across the bank. A mound of wood in Matthew Weber’s Cedar Cluster, like chewed beaver logs.

wood sculpture

Too many artworks to digest.

But the most impressive sculpture of the town stood only blocks away.

sing sing official sign

Sing Sing prison, its original cell block installed in 1825, has earned at various times the coinages “up the river”, “the big house,” and  “the last mile.” The name comes from that of the Native American people, the “Sinck Sinck”, from whom the land was acquired in 1685. The village sprang up around it. The jail still operates as a maximum security facility with about 1,700 prisoners, even as children run and chase in playgrounds right outside its walls and the Hudson Line actually sends its trains right through the complex.

sing sing

The kingdom of ruffians, invalids, and other misfits. You can drive right along the exterior walls and catch a glimpse through an open guardhouse door of a corrections officer reading the newspaper.

But the wall itself is the main attraction. No sculpture could approximate its power.

sing sing cu


Filed under Jean Zimmerman

5 responses to “Sculptural Sing Sing

  1. Delighted that you saw the piece. I so liked your work. Do you show much locally? Best, J.

  2. James Havens

    Jean, my wife found your blog and thought I might like it and indeed I did. Ossining is a lovely village and I am immensely pleased to have one of my sculptures on display there. Kind regards, Jim Havens

  3. Lori

    I’ve never seen a prison close up, except for once. Drove by Fulsome Prison in California when I was about 11. I’ve never thought of such places as … statuesque, but now that you mention it, Sing Sing is just that.
    You don’t like mulberries? I can’t get enough of them. Maybe that’s because we just don’t have many of such trees here. When I was in Chicago I tried them, and I have loved the taste ever since. I know of only one such tree in the Portland metro area.
    Maybe I should plant one in my yard, someday.

  4. Crenellated! Well, this place does look medieval in a way. The guards don’t like it much when you stop your car to take a picture.


    Oh.. poor Miss Havisham… so sad… I guess I need to reread Great Expectations. But I like the Cedar Cluster and the riverbank at that time of day… great photos! That Sing Sing wall is mighty plain though.. unimaginative; where I grew up… the County Prison stands confidently in a very nice section of the city… with the crenellated walls and massive towers of a medieval castle (barbed wire all around the top).

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