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Rhoneymeade Arboretum & Sculpture Garden: An Oasis of Beauty, Natural & Man-Made

Mar 14, 2017 07:59PM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger

Gallery: Rhoneymeade Arboretum & Sculpture Garden [10 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Dave Zuchowski


At Rhoneymeade I first learned the term conservation easement.
 
Dr. Richard Morgan, a retired Penn State molecular biologist, had just completed the legal agreement to protect from development his 151-acre farm tucked away off Route 45 in Potter Township, Centre County. I arrived just as he began planning to turn seven acres of the site into a sculpture garden. That was 27 years ago.
 

Future plan

Dr. Morgan’s goal was to allow the public to stroll the grounds free of charge and enjoy the sculptures by regional artists—including his own—carefully placed at strategic places. It was to be a marriage of art and nature—some of the oldest trees in Centre County mixed with flowering bushes, annuals and perennials and embellished with gazebos and cozy botanical niches fitted with small ponds and benches.

Dr. Morgan’s enthusiasm was inspirational. Even though his concept was in its elemental stage, I fell in love with the place. 

Last summer, I braved a severe thunderstorm to make a return visit. Happily, by the time I reached Altoona, the skies had cleared. Following Route 45 through a beautiful valley that reminded me of Bucks County years ago, I eventually veered off the main road onto an even more bucolic area. A few miles down Rimmey Road, I saw the sign announcing that I’d arrived at my destination—Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden.

 
Works of local artists

A lovely wood and glass artist’s studio, recently built with remnants of an old barn, served as the visitors welcome center, where the works of local artists are displayed and rotated on a monthly basis.

I was greeted by James Lesher, manager, and John Andrews, a board member of the non-profit. Lesher, it seems, is even more fond of Rhoneymeade than I. He started volunteering 27 years ago and is now caring for the grounds in Dr. Morgan’s absence with obvious concern and enthusiasm.  (Dr. Morgan passed away Aug. 23, 2016.)

Starting out on a tour, I asked about the name Rhoneymeade. “It’s a German rendition of Rhone’s meadow,” said Lesher. “It’s a reference to the Rhone family, whose patriarch, Michael Rhone, began clearing the land on his farm in the Penns Valley of Central Pennsylvania in 1794.”

Michael’s grandson Leonard completed the family’s lovely brick farmhouse in 1853. Still sturdy and standing tall, the home’s first floor serves as an art gallery showcasing paintings Dr. Morgan collected over the years. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the house is open to the public as part of the Rhoneymeade experience.

What you’ll see 

After walking along a lawn lined with fruit and impressively large deciduous trees, we arrived at the first sculpture—a massive Japanese-style lantern by Roger Pollock titled "Bronze Lantern" that sits atop an overlook whose vista includes Mt. Nittany and the Tussey Ridge.

Twenty-five other sculptures are scattered over the arboretum, each identified on annotated guides available at the welcome center. Some of the more significant trees are identified with labels and are on an annotated tree walk guide.

In shaded areas, plants like wood poppy and hostas add even more color and interest while plants like the unusual Canada lily, whose flowers dangle upside down from long stems, seem to relish soaking up the sun in more open areas.

In the 27 years since my first visit, development has taken place in the area surrounding Rhoneymeade. Thanks to the preservation efforts of Dr. Morgan and his conservation easement, it’s still a tranquil enclave, a slice of natural beauty kissed by manmade works, resting gracefully an aesthetic symbiotic marriage.
 

If you go

Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden, located on Rimmey Road off Route 45 in Potter Township between Boalsburg and Old Fort in Centre County, is open Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., April through October. Admission is free; donations are accepted. For more information, visit Rhoneymeade.org.
 
3) Bronze Lantern by Roger Pollock in Sculpture Garden
4) Curator James Lesher in Doorway of Rhone House
5) Exterior of Studio and Welcome Center
6) Inside the Studio
 


Sculptures and Public Park

Keith Kocher has a talent for creating marvels. As a youth, the Lightstreet, Columbia County, resident helped his 90-year-old carpenter-neighbor with projects and learned how to use tools rarely employed today—the adz, rip saw, hatchet and slick.

Kocher worked in the construction business for 10 years until he ventured out on his own in 1980 to woodwork and remodel old homes.

Ten years ago, Kocher, 62, tried something new: he turned T-shaped road pipe into a dragon. Other metal figures came next, including a 10-foot spider with a moth held in one leg; mounted on a pole, it turns in the wind.

In 1970, Kocher and his wife, Joan McCarty, donated land from their 1850s Custer/Kocher homestead to the Fishing Creek Watershed Assoc. Known as the Frank W. Kocher Memorial Park, the stream-side tract encompasses 60 acres and is open for public recreation and enjoyment.

Kocher placed many of his metalwork sculptures, some with abstract elements, adjacent to the park in a 10-acre field. The spider was the first to be displayed, in 2004. Other pieces followed, including a 17-foot-long snake that incorporates a 6-foot diameter ring made with materials from a nearby cell tower project.

“I never advertised the sculptures, but as time went by, more people took notice of them,” Kocher said.

The dragon, which has been moved from its original location in the backyard to a site overlooking the field, joined a giant whale with radiation symbols on its tail. Kocher said it’s symbolic of the degradation to the Pacific resulting from the Fukushima power plant disaster and the aftermath of the 2013 tsunami that ravaged northern Japan.

Kocher plans to add even more sculptures to the field, but doesn’t ever plan to market his metal craft—although he did make a weather vane for a paying client.

"I give them away as gifts," he said of his creations. "I don’t want to turn this into a business; it wouldn’t be fun anymore."

One of Kocher’s most spectacular-looking pieces—a 10-foot-long eel, biting the head of a shad, biting on a large snake, that’s latched onto a spider that’s caught a fly—turns in the wind atop the Children’s Museum in Bloomsburg.

“I consider my sculptures a hobby,” Kocher said. “Each piece is unique, with no rules attached. I am connected to my environment and the materials that come from it. In a world consumed with electronics, I still find the most enjoyment and gratification in creating something with my own hands.”
 

If you go

To learn more, visit lightstreetwoodwork.com and click on metalwork. Kocher Park is located along the banks of Fishing Creek just outside Lightstreet, PA. From Interstate 80, take exit 236B north on Route 487 for 1.5 miles. The park entrance is on the left.

 
Dave Zuchowski has been writing about food, wine, arts and entertainment, events, history, cultural, music, theater, film and travel for 33 years.

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