Located at 749 East 500 South in Salt Lake City, Gilgal Sculpture Garden was envisioned, designed and created by Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. in the mid-twentieth century.
Gilgal Sculpture Garden contains 12 original sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and literary texts. As a whole, Gilgal Sculpture Garden is significant as the only identified “visionary art environment” in Utah. Each represents an idea that rang of truth to Child in his life-long spiritual quest. Together, the sculptures and stones create a landscape of meaning and a unique work of art.
Child began work on Gilgal Garden in 1945, when he was 57 years old. By then, he had already led a successful career as a masonry contractor, married and raised a family, been a leader in community affairs, and served as a bishop of the LDS Tenth Ward for over 19 years. Child’s passion for his garden consumed much of his time and money until his death in 1963.
Child went to incredible lengths to obtain huge stones weighing up to 62 tons for his sculptures. He had great respect for the natural beauty of his materials. He traveled the state, scouring mountainsides and streambeds for “a boulder in which I could put over the idea and tell the story and still have it a stone.” Child had a complete workshop in his yard, including special equipment for handling and cutting the stone. He proudly stated that only raw materials were brought into the yard and all finish work was done on the site.
One of the most important artistic innovations in Gilgal Garden was Child’s use of an oxyacetylene torch, like those used to cut steel, for cutting stone. The heat of the torch removed the waste rock and fused the surface of the remaining stone, giving it a polished sheen. Child’s son-in-law and assistant, Bryant Higgs, was a skilled welder and pioneered this sculpting method.
After Thomas Child’s death, Gilgal Garden passed into the hands of new private owners. Friends of Gilgal Garden (FOGG) was organized in 1997 to prevent development on the site and insure its preservation for public enjoyment. Working closely with the Trust for Public Land and Salt Lake City Corporation, FOGG purchased Gilgal Garden in 2000 and the garden became a Salt Lake City park. The generous support of Salt Lake County, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation, The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, and many private donors made the purchase possible.
In 2013, the Salt Lake City Council approved funding to replace the garden’s very old irrigation system. The new system provides a much more predictable and sustainable way of caring for the plants, shrubs, and trees in the garden. The Salt Lake Master Gardener Association redesigned the plantings to be more water-wise and to bloom three seasons of the year.
Text excerpt from Gilgal Sculpture Garden website – http://gilgalgarden.org/