Often for their annual showcase celebrating the human form in nature, Denver Botanic Gardens curators scout artists and foundations worldwide. This year, they needed only to travel to the Evergreen ranch of Craig Ponzio.

The prominent businessman and philanthropist is to thank for the life-sized sculptures featured in “Human | Nature,” starting this weekend at the Gardens’ York Street spread and lasting through Sept. 15.

“Art collectors collect because they’re clearly passionate about art and want to adorn their homes with beautiful things, but they also collect because they want to share,” says Erin Bird, the Gardens’ communications manager. “A lot of those sculptures that live on Craig’s property are not accessible to the public. So this is a really great way for him to share some of his collection with Denver and beyond.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the previous monthslong “Human | Nature” shows. This time, they’ll meet creations of all shapes and sizes, as varied as the landscape.

Their origins date as far back as 1908 with the great Auguste Rodin’s “La Grande Muse de Whistler,” depicting a contemplative figure. Two sculptures from 2015 are exaggerated, lean and long, one standing in the lush atmosphere of the El Pomar Waterway, the other sitting among Shady Lane’s tall trees and bushes in bloom.

Two dozen sculptures now reside across the Gardens’ 24 acres. They are tall, such as La Grande Penelope (Large Penelope), crafted by Rodin student Antoine Bourdelle in 1912. Now Penelope watches over the sidewalks known as the Crossroads, where hummingbirds dance around flowers.

Other bronze beings are hunched. One woman appears to be curled up, as if overcome by the green beauty of her surroundings.

“Nothing reveals and enhances figurative sculptures like the color and beauty of nature,” Ponzio says in a news release.

And few places showcase that color and beauty like Denver Botanic Gardens, a nonprofit that aims “to connect people with plants” and “provide delight and enlightenment to everyone.”

So throughout the exhibit’s run, art lovers might leave as nature lovers “and vice versa,” Bird says. “We just see it as a really wonderful way to live out our mission.”

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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