In a small New Hampshire town on the Massachusetts border, art-lovers flock to a long-abandoned ski area. There, they wander the woods to view sculptures made of stone, steel, wood, and other materials in the same setting where, decades ago, thrill-seekers sped straight down black diamond trails.
At the Andres Institute of Art in Brookline, NH, artists from all over the world have contributed pieces to what is New England’s largest outdoor sculpture and hiking park. And new art is created and installed on the 140-acre hill every year at this hidden gem, which is free, fun, and open to the public year-round, dawn to dusk.
Over 100 thought-provoking, original works of art are nestled along walking trails all over the mountain, just waiting for visitors to view and enjoy the experience of a personal connection with nature combined with a chance to see large-scale art created on-site.
The park is the brainchild of engineer and innovator Paul Andres, who in 1996 purchased Big Bear Mountain and moved into the house at its peak. There, he was able to combine his lifelong love of nature and passion for art to devote a portion of the property to a sculpture park. Once Andres joined forces with sculptor and long-time Brookline resident John M. Weidman, there was no stopping the pair, and the Andres Institute of Art was born. What started as a few works in the front yard of Andres’ house has turned into a full-blown outdoor museum, with art placed among the many trails that criss-cross the mountain.
Start your visit by picking up one of the maps available in the parking area. An Andres Institute trails map is a curious thing — all at once necessary, inscrutable, and practically useless. Maybe the map is itself a work of art, and I’m too obtuse to understand it. I don’t know. Sometimes it map helped. But sometimes I consulted mine, looked up and around, and wondered if I had perhaps strayed to the edge of a flat world, one where beyond there were beasties waiting to devour me. Still, you need one of those maps if you’re to have a chance of really enjoying the place. Think of it as just one tool. Having your hiking wits about you is another. Basically, you can’t get all that lost on a 613-foot-high, 140-acre mountain, right? Also, there are signs here and there, so that’s one more tool in your kit.
Relax, you’re here to hike and enjoy art. If you bring children, fantastic. They can run and shout and actually touch the art. Even normally reluctant, complaining young hikers will be kept so busy looking for the next sculpture that before they know it, they’ll be at the top of the mountain and it will be time for a snack or lunch. If you bring a dog, also great. Just keep that member of the family on a leash, and it’s all good.
During my visit, I walked the Summit Loop with the goal of enjoying my bagged lunch with a view of the Monadnock Mountains range. Pro tip: when you get to the cell phone towers, you’re at the top, it just might not be 100% obvious. Here’s where your hiking wits come in. Where are cell towers placed? At the tippy top of wherever it is they are — church spires, sky scrapers, mountains, right? OK, you’ve got this. Walk a little further, poke around a bit, and before you know it, the Monadnock range will be arrayed before you, over a dozen peaks, great and small. To the left, there’s Barrett Mountain. Straight on, there’s Mt. Monadnock. Over to the right, Pack Monadnock. What you’ve got in front of you is a whole list of future adventures.
All that and art, too. You made it. Plop yourself down on the old bowling alley seating and enjoy the amazing view that include, of course, a perfectly placed, massive stone sculpture.
How the art gets there
Once a year, several artists from all over the world travel to the Institute to immerse themselves in its rural character and create their art as part of the Bridges and Connections International Sculpture symposium. The artists travel to the Andres Institute for a 3-week stint to craft what are often multi-ton works. The program is part short-term residency, part cultural exchange. Artists stay with locals who sponsor their stay, and work with volunteers who groom and prepare sculpture sites, and operate the heavy equipment needed to properly place the works.
According to the Andres website, “The artists are paid a small stipend for their attendance, but the real reward is that they are allowed to create whatever sculpture they like and to place it wherever they want on the mountain. The Institute provides tools and materials to help each artist realize his or her vision.”
The result is beautiful art hidden in plain sight among the natural backdrop of a New Hampshire forest.
The best part about the Andres Sculpture Park is that it’s unique and charming, with an original sculpture at every bend. The mountain itself, immovable and unchanging, serves as host to a this constantly growing work-in-progress that attracts an increasing number of artist applicants who vie for the four coveted spots per year.
We arrived for our visit to the Institute late-morning on a Saturday and enjoyed an easy, breezy socially distanced experience. The mountain was peopled but not crowded, and visitors were quick to don their masks upon approaching others. We’re told that a nice side trip is to stop off at the New Kun Garden Chinese Restaurant down the street for their Thai ice cream roll, followed by a dip at Potanipo Pond. We opted to hit one of the many farm stands in the area for organic produce and homemade baked goods.
Andres Institute of Art
98 Rte. 13
Brookline, NH 03033
Open year-round, dawn to dusk.
Parking is plentiful.
There is a port-a-potty in the parking lot, but it was off limits when we was there due to COVID.
There is no water available, so be sure to bring your own.
This is a carry in/carry out park.
Downloadable maps are available online.