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Take an en plein art walk

The giant troll sculptures are among some 40 works of art at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

A walk in the park is great. A walk in the park filled with art is even better. Sculpture parks combine natural beauty and world-class, often large-scale, works of art. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite open-air art museums in New England.

Andres Institute of Art, Brookline, N.H.

One of the largest sculpture gardens in New England spreads across the slopes of Big Bear Mountain, covering some 140 acres crisscrossed with more than 10 miles of trails. Plan to spend the day at this outdoor art museum, walking the trails through quiet woods and across open plateaus to view more than 70 stunning sculptures by artists from around the world.

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Nearly every year since 1999, Andres Institute of Art hosts an annual symposium inviting artists to create sculptures for permanent display in the park. The artists design and create what they want and place it where they’d like on the mountain.

Pick up a map of the color-coded trails and art descriptions. The Summit Loop Trail is a favorite, leading to “Phoenix” by Latvian sculptor Janis Karlovs, the park’s largest sculpture at 15-feet tall and weighing 11 tons. Open year-round, dawn-dusk, free; www.facebook.com/people/Andres-Institute-of-Art/100063685085540

Plan to spend the day at the Andres Institute of Art, walking the trails through quiet woods and across open plateaus to view more than 70 sculptures by artists from around the world. Pamela Wright

deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln

One of the finest sculpture parks in New England and beyond, this Trustees of Reservations property includes about 60 contemporary, large-scale sculptures. It’s a beautiful place to visit, set along Flint’s Pond, with 30 acres of fields, forest, lawns, and gardens. The collection includes works by Dorothy Dehner, Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Dan Graham, Alyson Shotz, Beverly Pepper, Jaume Plensa, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. But new works are added frequently, on loan from significant artists.

Carve out some time to wander the trails, appreciate the artwork, have a picnic, or attend one of the park’s many programs, including guided tours, concerts, and family-friendly events. Open year-round, summer Mon.-Fri. 10-4, Sat.-Sun. 10-5, winter Wed.-Sun., adults $14, students $12, ages 12 and under free; www.thetrustees.org/place/decordova/

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Path of Life Sculpture Garden, Windsor, Vt.

Tucked behind the parking lot of an industrial park, this unusual sculpture garden lies in an unlikely spot for a spiritual journey. Venture in and you’ll discover 14 acres of hills, valleys, and ridges along the Connecticut River, with 18 works of art meant to symbolize phases in life, from birth to death to rebirth.

You’ll enter through the Tunnel of Oblivion, and travel through Birth, symbolized by a vulva-shaped stone sculpture, Adventure, with a hemlock maze (pick your route), beyond to other phases, like Creativity, symbolized with tall driftwood sculptures shaped like musicians, Sorrow, depicted by a coverless teepee, and Joy, with an inviting, pick-your-own (when in season) blueberry and raspberry patch. Open year-round dawn to dusk, ages 13 and up $6, ages 4-12 $3; pathoflifegarden.com.

A Buddha sculpture is placed under a large metal halo suspended from the trees at the Bedrock Gardens. Pamela Wright

Bedrock Gardens, Lee, N.H.

This tucked-away gem is located on a former 1700s dairy farm, with gardens, woods, water features, and more than 120 sculptures. It’s the brainchild of Jill Nooney and Bob Munger, who designed the themed landscapes to showcase Nooney’s whimsical artwork. The garden, now operating as a nonprofit and open to the public, spreads over 30 acres, with more than 20 themed areas.

Take a walk through the Dark Woods, an old pine forest filled with wood fairy-like creatures, stroll along the Wiggle Waggle, a 200-foot manmade river planted with lotus and lilies, and grab a seat next to the Tea House and Petit Pond to listen to the gurgling streams and waterfalls. Meandering paths lead from one landscape to another, through allees and arches, and around ponds and garden beds, filled with unique and often rare plants. Everywhere there is witty and playful art, often made from scrap materials and old farm implements. Don’t miss the Barn Garden, lined with a tall evergreen hedge and a wall of 26 sculpted people, or the Asian Teahouse Garden and Buddha pillar under a large metal halo suspended from the trees. Open Tues.-Fri. and first and third weekends of the month, 10-4 through Oct. 9. Free guided tours at 10:15 a.m. on open days. Adults $15 (suggested donation), 12 and under free; bedrockgardens.org

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Cold Hollow Sculpture Park, Enosburg, Vt.

In 1970, Vermont sculpture artist David Stromeyer bought a 200-acre former dairy farm in the foothills of the Cold Hollow Mountains, with plenty of room and scenic inspiration to create his abstract, large-scale steel sculptures. Fast forward: Today, visitors can wander the rolling hills and pastures to view more than 70 pieces of Stromeyer’s soaring, swirling, and bending outdoor art, representing five decades of his work.

Some standout pieces include “Do-Jo-Ji,” a 13-foot-tall steel sculpture that tilts and rotates in the wind; “Moments in Play,” a teeter-totter of steel and rock; “Jumoke,” a colorful 20-foot-tall abstract steel male figure; “Oop-pop-pa-da,” created in steel and clad in hand-broken porcelain tiles. The park also hosts a variety of special programs, events, and workshops. Open Thurs.-Sun., 11-5 through Oct. 9, donations accepted; coldhollowsculpturepark.com

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Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Garden enthusiasts and art lovers alike will delight in this stunning garden in mid-coast Maine. Covering more than 300 acres, it’s the largest botanical garden in New England, featuring themed gardens, woods, streams, ponds, and some 40 works of art.

Gardens include the 2-acre Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden, Haney Hillside Garden, planted with more than 6,000 native plants, Giles Rhododendron and Perennial Garden features a pond and waterfall and more than 175 varieties of rhododendron and azaleas, Arbor Garden, with climbing roses, wisteria, clematis, ornamental grapes, and honeysuckle, and Slater Forest Pond with frogs and aquatic insects and water lilies. Artworks are strategically placed along the way, including “Sal’s Bear” by Nancy Schon, who also created Boston Public Garden’s “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture; “Alert Wolf” and “Stalking Wolf,” by internationally recognized artist Wendy Klemperer, who uses scrap metal to make welded animal forms; “The Codfather,” a bronze cast over wood by artist Steve Lindsay, and “Stone Faces,” made of carved granite by artist William Jacobs. Also, look for the five giant trolls! Open daily, 9-5, May-Oct. 22, adults $24, students $15, ages 3-17 $10; mainegardens.org

Langlais Art Preserve, Cushing, Maine

Renowned Maine artist Bernard “Blackie” Langlais created a massive collection of work, more than 3,500 indoor and outdoor pieces during his cut-short lifetime (he died of heart failure at the age of 56). During the last 11 years of his life, he constructed more than 65 whimsical wood sculptures on his 90-acre homestead in Cushing. The large-scale folk-art pieces were often constructed of salvaged wood and placed across the fields and forests of the estate.

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Now part of the Georges River Land Trust, the preserve showcases 12 of Langlais’ most iconic wood sculptures in their original locations, including life-size bears, a cow, and a depiction of Richard Nixon. A short, ¼-mile trail loops around the sculptures. If you’d like to see more of Langlais’ work, check out the Langlais Art Trail. Open daily dawn-dusk, free; georgesriver.org/langlais


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com