Just off Fifth Avenue at 79th Street in Central Park is a small playground. Step inside, and try to resist the charm of these three enormous bronze bears.
“Group of Bears” has been at the Pat Hoffman Friedman playground since 1990. Cast 30 years earlier, this whimsical sculpture is the work of Paul Manship.
If the bears look familiar, its because Manship is the sculptor behind some of Central Park’s most beloved bronze animal statues. Those are his dancing goats and frolicking boy on top of the Lehman Gates (above) at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo.
Manship also designed the Osborn Gates (below), which feature bronze vignettes inspired by Aesop’s fables. Dedicated in 1953, these gates stood at the entrance of a playground on the northern side the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the 1970s, the playground was torn down to expand the museum, and Manship’s animal-themed gates sat in storage—until they were brought back to the park and installed at the Ancient Playground in 2009.
Not all of Manship’s work has a child-friendly, fairy-tale kind of feel. He’s the sculptor whose Prometheus marks the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.
[Third photo: Centralparknyc.org; Fourth photo: Wikipedia]