The Ashford Hollow Foundation grew out of passion for creating and love of neighbors. Larry Griffis, Jr. the creator and visionary of both the Griffis Sculpture Park and the Essex Art Center grew up in Buffalo. He was always an artist but did not dedicate himself to the arts until later in life. After fighting in WWII, starting a family and running a successful hosiery company, Larry Griffis, Jr. decided to leave his life in Buffalo and move to Rome to learn bronze casting. Griffis already had the commission for the Spirit of Womanhood 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 always changing natural setting.
On his return from Rome, Larry 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 park landed in Ashford Hollow between Springville and Ellicottville. The Griffis Sculpture Park 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. The sculpture park is currently over 400 acres of land with around 250 sculptures exhibited.
Around the same time as the purchase of land in Ashford Hollow, a turn of the century ice factory was bought on the west side of Buffalo. This large unique brick complex became the Essex Art Center. Griffis established it for emerging artists and arts organizations in Buffalo. Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo are two more prominent artists who got there start at the Essex Art Center. Organizations such as Hallwalls and CEPA gallery also began as grassroots groups where the present Big Orbit Gallery now stands. This was also the site where many of the sculptures at the Griffis Sculpture Park were created. Characterized by tall ceilings, large open bays, and attractive brick work, this space proves to be a great environment for creativity to flourish.
Larry Griffis, Jr. had so much passion and love for community that he let no one stand in his way to make his dreams come true.He left behind his legacy to youngest son, Simon P. Griffis. Simon led enthusiastically as Director for ten years. He has developed unique Arts in Education programs to reach thousands of young artists in Western New York. Under his leadership there have been international sculpture exhibits, the first traveling sculpture show in WNY, the park hosted an International Sculpture Symposium, acquisition of new major sculptures, and the creation of the Studio for Youth where thousands of young disenfranchised artists have learned how to create metal sculptures. Both Larry and Simon dedicated their lives to the Ashford Hollow Foundation and have passed on leaving us with so many 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.