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The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park is a collection of 30 dramatic large-form sculptures spread over 100 acres of prairie landscape in University Park, a suburb south of Chicago. This outdoor “museum on the prairie” features walkable grass paths that wind through the campus of Governors State University.

Sculptures in the park by internationally acclaimed artists include Yes! for Lady Day, by Mark di Suvero, crafted of steel I-beams, parts of a railroad car and galvanized steel cable.

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Yes! For Lady Day by Mark di Suvero, Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, University Park, Ill.
Credit: Geoffrey Bates

“Like most of his works, this one is interactive and kinetic,” said Jeff Stevenson, director and curator of the park and its sister Visual Arts Gallery. “Mark came here to create it around the time the university was chartered in 1969.”

Visitors appreciate the whimsical Paul, a colorful rendition of Paul Bunyan, by Tony Tasset. This Paul, however, looks more than a little like the Moses created by Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. 

Not far away is the iconic Bodark Arc, by Martin Puryear, which combines landscape elements like living trees and stones with a wooden arch and a cast bronze chair. “Bodark” was a Native American term for Osage orange trees, some of which grow on this living art site. The site is so large, it’s often shown off with aerial photos.

Another highlight is Working on the Failed Utopia, a stylized geodesic dome by artist Christine Tarkowski, whose work also is displayed near The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park. 

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Paul by Tony Tasset, Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, University Park, Ill. Credit: GTM/David Hoekman

Annual visitors to the park number around 6,000, and most spend about one to two hours on-site. Free and open every day of the year to the public, the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park operates guided tours for groups for a fee. There is ample free parking for motorcoaches.

Opened in 1969, the “Nate” was founded and is maintained through grants and donations from businesses and philanthropists including the Manilow family, which helped develop the area near the park.

Everyone who visits the “Nate” calls it a “hidden gem,” Stevenson said. The most common visitor comment, he added, is: “It’s such an important collection. Why have we never come to visit?”

For more information, call 708-534-4021 or go to govst.edu/nmsp.

Article by Mark Shuman