Art in Airlie
Beyond the gardens and access to nature, Airlie Gardens is also known for its spectacular collection of art.
Although Airlie Gardens might best be known for its breathtaking formal gardens and 67 acres of walking trails, lakes and lush greenspace, this historic park is also home to a spectacular collection of art. From historic structures to a multitude of sculptures located throughout the gardens, visitors can enjoy strolling through the beautiful grounds while exploring Airlie’s permanent art collection.
By far, Airlie’s most popular feature is the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel and Sculpture Garden. Built from 2004 to 2006, the chapel was created by multiple artists as a tribute to longtime Airlie Gardens employee and visionary artist Minnie Evans in honor of her legacy. She worked at Airlie’s ticket booth for 26 years, and it was the spot where she created many of her works. Her art is best known for its bright colors and exotic plants with eyes and faces emerging from the foliage, and it can be found at galleries all over the world. Today, many visitors travel to Airlie specifically to see the Bottle Chapel. In addition to the chapel, the sculpture garden is also home to other pieces of art by various artists, including a copper tree, triangular benches, metal angels, the Bottle Chapel gate, ceramic mosaics and a stained-glass portrait of Minnie Evans.
In addition to the Bottle Chapel, Airlie Gardens includes dozens of other permanent pieces of art. Located just inside the main gate along the entrance road sits The Beast, a sculpture inspired by the work of Minnie Evans. Inside Airlie’s Butterfly House, visitors will find a stainless steel butterfly mobile hanging from the roof, as well as the two botanical sculptures, Imagine Whimsy II and III. A 6-foot wide by 6-foot tall stainless steel flower, Azalea, can be found in the Presidents’ Garden along Bradley Creek. Busts of Pan and Bronze Deer are two sculptures located in the Pergola Garden, as is one of two copper frog sculptures, Earl the Frog. The other, Butterfly Frog, can be found holding a net in the Tranquility Garden. Finally, Airlie’s historic front gate dates back to the late 1700s and was installed at the entrance in 1920.
In addition to Airlie’s permanent art collection, the gardens also showcase an annual art exhibit. Now in its ninth year, the exhibit invites artists from throughout the community to submit design ideas for the decoration of fiberglass statues based on a selected theme. This year’s chosen theme is owls, and the exhibit, called It’s Owl Good, runs through the end of December. From more than 70 submissions, 10 artists were selected to paint and adorn 4-foot owls that are now displayed throughout the gardens for guests to enjoy. Every year Airlie staff vote on a theme related to gardens, wildlife or simply a positive, feel-good symbol, with recent past themes including gnomes, hearts and squirrels. The annual art exhibit is extremely popular and brings in visitors from all over.
“We give visitors a scavenger hunt to help them find all 10, which helps not only for us to further our mission of exposing the public to art, but also to help get them all the way through the gardens,” says Airlie’s Director of Donor Relations Janine Powell.
“Historically, our slower time has been during the heat of the summer, because there’s not as much in bloom in the gardens,” Powell says. “We have our big bump in the spring when we have 75,000 azaleas blooming and more than 60,000 daffodil and tulip bulbs, so this is a way to draw visitors into the garden during a time when they might not think to come in.”
At the end of the exhibit, Airlie Gardens will auction off all 10 pieces for anyone wanting to add an oversized, colorful owl to their home art collection, and the proceeds will go toward the gardens. The annual art exhibit, one of Airlie’s most highly anticipated events each year, is beloved by visitors of all ages.
“Our exhibits draw young and old alike,” says Powell. “We have a lot of grandparents who bring their grandchildren back multiple times, and adults come in and want to try the scavenger hunt themselves. It’s definitely something that’s always popular and brings people back again and again.”
Want to go to Airlie Gardens?
300 Airlie Road, Wilmington