In August 1999, Pam Mathews moved to Cleveland where her husband David Potter had just been named the new President of Delta State University.
Pam, a painter, worked for the National Endowment for the Arts before moving south, and she called her new friend Nan Sanders, a fellow painter, to discuss the idea of developing a sculpture garden on the front lawn of the newly completed Bologna Performing Arts Center on the DSU campus.
Pam’s idea was to have a biennial competition which would bring in 10 new pieces every other year. At the end of their stay, her plan was to have a purchase prize that would become part of a permanent collection that remained on campus. Her dream was to set up a way of developing a noteworthy collection of public art that would make the campus of Delta State very unique.
At that time, there was nothing like this in Mississippi, and when the first competition was held in 2000, the unique concept was championed as a great success and brilliant idea. Since that time, the story of the Sculpture Garden has been marked with extremes – both tragic and triumphant – proving that even in sad circumstances, good ideas with willing partners can prevail. In 2002, after the second competition had arrived, Pam was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She fought bravely for two years, but before the second competition concluded, she died in April 2004.
It was up to her friend and colleague Nan to be sure that her brilliant ideas and the traditions she started were continued in a way that honored her work. For the next two and a half years, the Sculpture Garden competition was suspended while the formal plans for the layout and construction of the current garden were completed. Nan’s mother-in-law, Hazel Sanders, generously funded the project, so that, in the fall of 2007, the third class was installed in the new Hazel and Jimmy Sanders Sculpture Garden, and Nan renewed the rewarding work of carrying on the dreams of her dear friend.
Because of the generosity of many people throughout the years, Delta State has become noted for its permanent collection which now numbers 30 pieces, many of which have been placed over the campus while the past competition winners and current exhibit are in the formal garden in front of the BPAC. The lists of the works and artists can be found in the Archive section of the Mathews-Sanders Sculpture Garden website at www.thesculpturegardenms.com.
Please note the diversity of backgrounds of the artists that have shown in the Garden over the past 17 years. They have come from over 15 states over the seven competitions we have held. The University and Sculpture Garden Committee, working closely with the Art Department, are very proud to have forged new friendships with these talented artists.
The eighth competition arrived in August of 2017. Since the opening of the GRAMMY® Museum Mississippi in 2016, the Sculpture Garden has expanded its footprint to include six pieces on the grounds which are distinguished by their musical themes or references. In August of 2017, an additional five pieces were added to the competition class and were installed downtown along the green space along Sharpe Avenue.
Cleveland has become an art-centric community, and the Sculpture Garden has played a major role in this development. The announcement was made in January 2018 that the name of the Sculpture Garden was changed to Mathews-Sanders Sculpture Garden, paying appropriate homage to Pam Mathews, whose vision created the garden, and to Nan Sanders whose family has supported the development of her vision after her untimely death.
Pam believed that the presence of public art elevates the consciousness of people who come within its space. The Sculpture Garden committee hopes that you will find that to be your experience as you visit Mathews-Sanders Sculpture Garden on the Delta State University campus, across the street at the GRAMMY® Museum Mississippi, and as you visit downtown Cleveland.