Contributed by Vanessa Palumbo of Resident Tourist Bethlehem PA.
In the morning the fog blankets the crumbling concrete. In the afternoon, the sun gleams off of the gemstones. The light breeze ruffles the aluminum cans creating a soft whisper. This concrete playground of recycled materials is right in the Christmas City. This is the Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave ("Enclave").
If you are looking for the obscure look no further than Lehigh University’s upper campus. Atlas Obscura added this location to their archives this past April. It's funny, the site is gaining more and more notoriety in the light of its own decay.
The first Enclave piece was the Millennium Folk Arch. The concrete arch is embedded with vintage toys, computer hardware, and protruding sculpted faces. It is the walkway to an enchanting collection of unconventional pieces.
The Arch was constructed in 1999 as part of an art course at Lehigh University. The course, entitled Raw Vision: Creativity and Ecstasy in the Work of Shamans, Mystics, and Artist Outsiders, was taught by Norman Girardot, a Bethlehem resident and Professor Emeritus of Religion Studies. The class focused on the importance of the spirit through the eyes of shamans, mystics, and artists. It was inspired by outsider (self-taught) artists such as Howard Finster and local well-known Mr. Imagination, Gregory Warmack.
In the whimsical garden, each piece has a story. The story can be who constructed it, what it is composed of, or the story a newcomer attributes to it. Here are a few examples:
THE WHO Mr. Imagination was a mentor and assisted in making many of the pieces. In his own work, Mr. I would often do self-portraits. He carried this theme in the Art Enclave. His face is in several places including the Folk Arch and the Throne of Regeneration. The Throne is a life-sized concrete throne in the middle of the field.
THE WHAT The neat dynamic of the Enclave is that it is made from found materials. One example is the skeleton of the Folk Arch before the concrete casing. It was built with lumber from Professor Girardot’s old front porch.
THE STORY The Enclave resides on Lehigh University’s campus. With new inbounding students each year, the Enclave grows more mysterious. The sculptures now have various names because it becomes more detached from its origins. This detachment is less sad than one may suspect. It really just adds to the allure and mysticism of this unique spot.
What many do not realize is as the Enclave grew it spilled over into the community. The Enclave is a main artery of many works around South Bethlehem. It is The Tour Less Traveled. If you visit the Enclave I beg you to take a small journey to see the many connections it has in South Bethlehem.
Full of imagination, culture, and beauty in the unpolished, the Art Enclave is a rare find. As time passes the monuments are crumbling back into the earth. Although some pieces have perished, some aged remains stand provoking visitors.
I welcome you to take a seat in the Throne of Regeneration. Take shade under the Concrete Tree of Sacred Debris. Stand next to the towering Olmec head. Take in all of the Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave and start your adventure!
Resident Tourist is the alias of Vanessa L. Palumbo, a transplant from Scranton PA. A passion for photography and an appreciation for her new surroundings prompted her to start a local blog dedicated to playing tourist as a resident around the Lehigh Valley. Check out her other adventures around town at Resident Tourist Bethlehem PA.