Hartman Rock Garden rolling: More visitors, new grant boost Springfield attraction

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

More than 13,000 people last year toured the folk-art destination that began in the Great Depression.

A tiny world of concrete and stone in Springfield saw growth over the pandemic, and more plans for the space are forming with a $75,000 national arts foundation grant.

The Hartman Rock Garden at 1905 Russell Ave. will receive the unrestricted grant funding from the newly formed Ruth Foundations for the Arts.

The foundation is part of the estate of Wisconsin-born museum director Ruth DeYoung Kohler, who was instrumental in the restoration of the Springfield rock garden in 2008-2009 and remained a supporter of the garden until her death in 2020, said Hartman Rock Garden curator and Springfield Foundation historian Kevin Rose.

“We’re ecstatic,” Rose said. “We had great respect for [Kohler], who really is the reason we’re all here anyway. She was the one who stepped up and committed resources to Hartman.”

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Although details are still being finalized for what specific projects will see grant funding, Rose said money will cover conservation of the art, property maintenance and interpretation for the garden.

The grant is coming from the foundation’s legacy fund — a pool of funding for projects that were dear to Kohler.

“We’ve had great support coming in from so many philanthropic partners,” Rose said. “This is able to fill some gaps.”

Hartman, a folk-art garden found in a residential neighborhood in southwest Springfield, saw more than 13,000 visitors in 2022, mostly between the months of March through October, Rose said. The garden uses new technology using motion sensors to help it track attendance.

Attendance remained strong through the pandemic, unlike other attractions, as the garden is outdoors and visitors could properly distance themselves from each other. Interest in the garden has also grown over the past 10 years because of websites like Atlas Obscura, a collection of unique places for curious travelers.

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People have traveled from across the country and world to walk around the rock garden. Rose said he has chatted with visitors from India, Japan and Russia.

The Depression-era rock garden is known for its sculptural works, fountains, fishing pond and more surrounded by flowers. The art was created by H.G. Ben Hartman, who constructed each piece by hand with materials like concrete, stone, metal and glass.

Hartman was first and foremost a horticulturist, Rose said, growing many displays of flowers in his garden space before his death in 1944. A large group of volunteers work to keep that tradition alive.

“It’s a labor of love, of maintaining, weeding, planting all of the flowers every year,” Rose said.

A few large projects will be announced for the garden in the summertime, Rose said.

Learn more about the Hartman Rock Garden at http://hartmanrocks.org/.

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