The Essex Arts Center was founded in 1969 by renowned Buffalo sculptor Larry W. Griffis, Jr. as living, working, and gallery spaces for artists working in a diversity of practices. The center, along with the Griffis Sculpture Park, is run by the Ashford Hollow Foundation, devoted to the promotion of the visual and performing arts.
Today, the center's residents include 19Ideas, the Buffalo Institution of Contemporary Art, the Ashford Hollow Foundation offices, and a range of artists continuing to live and work in the center. In the past, the Essex Arts Center has also been home to other prominent arts organizations including Hallwalls, CEPA, and Big Orbit.
Head to the “Our Community” tab to learn more about current residents of the Essex arts center, or click this link if you’re interested in learning about or visiting the Griffis Sculpture Park!
The Ashford Hollow Foundation, which has run the Essex Arts Center since its inception in 1969, grew out of a passion for creating and love of neighbors. Larry W. Griffis, Jr., the creator and visionary behind both the Griffis Sculpture Park and the Essex Arts Center, grew up in Buffalo as a businessman by trade but an artist by night. After fighting in WWII, starting a family, and running a successful hosiery company, Griffis decided to leave his life in Buffalo and move to Rome to learn bronze casting. He already had the commission for the Spirit of Womanhood, today located in Delaware Park, which gave a decided focus and urgency for his move and work there. It was in Italy amongst the ancient ruins of Hadrian's Villa where Griffis was inspired to create the first outdoor sculpture park. As his children played throughout the sculptural ruins set in a beautiful landscape, he realized the importance of physical interaction with artwork in an ever-changing natural setting.
On his return from Rome, Griffis made it his mission to create a haven for imagination and play for his fellow neighbors to enjoy. After a short stint at the top of Kissing Bridge Ski resort, the newly-formed Griffis Sculpture Park landed in Ashford Hollow between Springville and Ellicottville. The park's current home started with a gift from Larry's mother, Ruth, of 125 acres of farm land. As the park's needs grew, so did the property. Today, the sculpture park is over 400 acres of land with around 250 sculptures exhibited.
Around the same time as the purchase of land in Ashford Hollow, Larry bought a turn-of-the-century ice factory on the west side of Buffalo. He and his brother Roderick set to work, and this unique brick complex became the Essex Arts Center. Griffis established the center as a home for emerging artists and arts organizations in Buffalo, but the factory was also known as an incubator of experimentation and a hub for young artists to play. Among the early inhabitants of the center were grassroots organizations such as Hallwalls, CEPA, and the Big Orbit Gallery. Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, two of the founders of Hallwalls, got their start at the Essex Arts Center, while performance artist Laurie Anderson was known to show up to the center's famed art openings. This was also the site where many of the sculptures of the Griffis Sculpture Park were created. Characterized by tall ceilings, large open bays, and attractive brickwork, this space proves to be a great environment for creativity to flourish.
Larry Griffis, Jr. had a lasting passion not only for painting and sculpture, but also for the Buffalo community. As remembered by Charles R. Penney, co-founder of the Burchfield-Penney Art Center and a lifelong friend of Larry's, "He was a giant in the community. He fought for the local artists when none of them... would support them. He stood for something I stood for. Nobody stood for the local artists, and he was a giant for them." (via the Buffalo News).
He left this legacy to his youngest son, Simon P. Griffis. Simon led enthusiastically as Director for ten years, during which he developed unique Arts in Education programs to reach thousands of young artists in Western New York. Under his leadership, the Ashford Hollow Foundation has hosted international sculpture exhibits, the first traveling sculpture show in WNY, an International Sculpture Symposium hosted by the park, acquisition of new major sculptures, and the creation of the Studio for Youth where thousands of young underserved artists have learned how to create metal sculptures. Both Larry and Simon dedicated their lives to the Ashford Hollow Foundation, and though they have both since passed on, we are left with their legacies and their gifts.
Today, both the Griffis Sculpture Park and the Essex Art Center are hosts to many local artists, community organizations and events, international art exhibits, and Arts in Education outreach. The foundation is currently led by Director Nila Griffis Lampman, granddaughter and niece to Larry and Simon.
Buffalo band Aircraft performing at the 2013 Essex Party