It’s a unique sight to see in Joplin: the expansive green lawn in front of Jorge Leyva’s home dotted with a handful of large metal sculptures. Some of them are brightly colored, while others stand gray and raw, awaiting the time when they, too, will be painted into life.
Like flowers in a garden, these exquisite sculptures bloom in their own time, in their own way. “I believe in beauty and in beautifying the place where I exist,” says Jorge.
And he doesn’t want to keep this beauty to himself. He wants others to see, feel, and experience the art themselves, which is why he’s opened his sculpture garden to the public – for free.
There aren’t many parks or other public spaces in town where people can go to see artistic pieces like fountains and sculptures. But that is beginning to change, and Jorge is playing a big part of the public art movement in Joplin.
His mission is to educate his town about “the importance of having something visual where people can participate and feel alive.” He recently dedicated a piece that he created for the Joplin Public Library called “Revering the Phoenix Effect,” which represents how Joplin rose from the dust after the tornado.
At its dedication ceremony, Jorge watched as a little girl walked up to the sculpture and began playing with one of the houses on it like it was a Lego. “She was encountering herself with art,” says Jorge, and that’s the kind of experience that he hopes everyone who comes across his art will have.
A wise – and extremely humble – man, Jorge has worked as an artist for 25 years. Originally from Peru, he came to Missouri to study engineering, but a close friend helped him see that his true talent was expressing himself through art. He graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a BA, from Pittsburg State University with an MA, and then from California College of the Arts with an MFA.
He’s artwork has been sold worldwide, and his sculptures are carried by Nuart Gallery in Santa Fe. His work is valuable, but not necessarily affordable. For his private clients, he creates “luxury,” but for those of us living in Joplin, he creates accessibility. We get the chance to see his work at Joplin Public Library, Spiva Center for the Arts, as well as at Jorge’s own home.
Sculpture at Spiva Center for the Arts
It’s refreshing to see that an artist of Jorge’s caliber genuinely cares about his hometown and strives to contribute to his community in many ways. Not only does he share his artwork in public spaces, but he also collaborates with local people in finishing his metal sculptures, like by using a local sandblaster/painter who adds the vibrant color to his creations.
Visiting Jorge’s sculpture garden is a fulfilling experience, made even more so if you have the chance to interact with the artist himself. Talking to Jorge is like salve for the soul: he’s funny and comforting; charming and insightful. In order to visit, you’ll need to call ahead (417-623-8085): the gates are closed at night and on the weekends unless he’s at home working.
While you’re there, ask to see his indoor studio. While I was there, he was working on paintings with “cocoon clouds,” clouds filled with depth that represent metamorphosis.
Who knew that so much could be represented in clouds?
While his work has changed over time, one theme that has remained constant, in both his work and his life, is gratitude – gratitude for his creativity, for the people who interact with his work, and for the people who support it. “Joplin has embraced me beautifully. Nothing is equal to having my own town and its people embrace me so well.”
“Weighing in on the Scales of Nature” represents the rebuilding of Joplin after the tornado. “People in Joplin are resilient,” says Jorge. “They are about home.”
To visit Jorge Leyva’s sculpture garden at 1305 East Vandalia Street, call 417-623-8085. Click here to see Jorge’s website.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.