"Out To Lunch" – Sunnyvale Library's Sculpture

Facts | Photo Gallery | Sunnyvale Sun Article | English Translation of Book He is Reading

The Out to Lunch sculpture by J. Seward Johnson welcomes visitors to the Library.

Sculpture Facts

Name: Out to Lunch
Sculptor: J. Seward Johnson
Sculpted: 1979
Acquired: 1985
Cost: $40,000
Last Casting Priced at: $120,000
Book he is reading: Nos han dado la tierra in Juan Rulfo's collection 'El llano en llamas' and 'Pedro Paramo'

Sculpture Photo Gallery

There are eight editions of the ‘Out to Lunch’ sculpture across the country. The Library owns one edition, six other editions are pictured below, and one edition (no photo available) is currently on loan at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

Out to Lunch Sculpture at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa





Coe College
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Photo courtesy of Scott Rettberg



Out to Lunch Sculpture at Georgetown Park, Washington DC





Georgetown Park (on loan)
Washington, DC
Photo courtesy of Kathy Arvis



Out to Lunch Sculpture at Hilton Head Institute for the Arts, Hilton Head, South Carolina





Hilton Head Institute for the Arts
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Photo courtesy of Barbara Nunn



Out to Lunch Sculpture at Nichols Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri





Nichols Plaza
Kansas City, Missouri
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Drouin



Out to Lunch Sculpture at Palmer Square in Princeton, New Jersey





Palmer Square
Princeton, New Jersey
Photo courtesy of Gabor Hetyei



Out to Lunch Sculpture at Tyndale Publishing in Carol Stream, Illinois





Tyndale Publishing
Carol Stream, Illinois
Photo courtesy of Dan Bailey



Sculpture Article in the Sunnyvale Sun

If the man outside the library appears 'Out to Lunch', he is
By Michelle Alaimo
Published in the Sunnyvale Sun, July 26, 1995
Reprinted with permission and updated 2007

Every day, for the past 10 years, the same man has sat reading on a bench in front of the Sunnvyale Public Library. He ignores the weather. He disregards passersby. No matter what happens, he never takes his eyes off his book.

He seems crazy, it's true. Until one realizes he's a statue.

"Out to Lunch" is a lifelike bronze sculpture of a young man reading a book, written in Spanish, and holding a partially eaten hamburger.

Children love to run up to the sculpture and touch it. On any given day, children are seen sitting in the statue's lap or trying to take away the sandwich. One patron, who requested her name be withheld, said she plans to bring her camera next time to take a picture of her son next to the sculpture.

The sculpture was purchased in 1985 for $40,000 at former Sunnyvale Mayor John Mercer's urging after he saw a similar piece on display in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. while on a business trip.

The city of Sunnyvale's budget had $25,000 set aside for a sculpture to place in front of the newly expanded and renovated library, which reopened that June. The city council, in meetings prior to February 1985, already had decided the sculpture should be a human form rather than an abstract one.

"I just wanted something different for the library and the atmosphere," Mercer said. "When I first saw the sculpture, I assumed there was only one."

Mercer had no idea the sculpture, made by J. Seward Johnson Jr., grandson to the founder of Johnson & Johnson, was cast in a series of eight, one of which the artist kept as the artist’s proof. The Sunnyvale Arts Commission contacted the Georgetown mall where Mercer saw the sculpture and located the curator who sells Johnson's pieces.

Sheryl Nonnenberg, the city's cultural arts supervisor, at the time, learned that a tentative sale of the sixth casting of the sculpture had fallen through and that Sunnyvale would be placed on a long list of possible buyers.

A week later, the city received a call from the curator giving them until the end of the week to make a decision.

The next day, Mercer brought in his snapshots of the "Out to Lunch" sculpture to a city council meeting and urged his fellow council members to approve the purchase even though the Sunnyvale Arts Commission had not approved of the purchase yet.

"It violated every procedure we have for buying art," Mercer said. Although he felt uneasy about being rushed into a decision, he knew this was the city's only chance to buy the sculpture.

Mercer felt the sculpture was appropriate for the library because it is of a young person reading a book. Five of the six council members agreed and voted to purchase the sculpture. Only Councilmember Harry Cude abstained because he didn't like being rushed into spending $15,000 more than originally planned for the sculpture.

Funds for the sculpture came from the 1985 general fund and a planned art purchase for 1986, which was scratched.

The attention the statue draws to the library appears to have justified its expense.

Madhu Vakil, a frequent Sunnyvale Public Library patron, said that "so many people stop by and took a look and try to read the book. It's very detailed and looks like a real man sitting there."

The "Out to Lunch" sculpture was made in1979. It is just one of hundreds of Johnson's works. The Sunnyvale statue is the only "Out to Lunch" sculpture on the West Cost - and apparently the only one whose book is in Spanish, the curator said.

"This is one of the unique characteristics about Seward Johnson's work," said Jay Murphy, assistant curator for Sculpture Placement Ltd. of Washington, D.C. He said that Johnson often fine-tunes certain aspects of his sculptures to fit where the original buyer is placing the piece. This includes localizing a newspaper or making the book a certain way.

"Seward is America's hyper-realistic sculptor. His works are the most renowned," Murphy said.

In November 1994, the "Out to Lunch" sculpture was named as the town's best sculpture by The Sun's readers.

Translation of 'Out to Lunch' Sculpture Text

The selection is from the short story ‘Nos han dado la tierra’ (They’ve given us the land) by Mexican author Juan Rulfo (1918-1986). It comes from his first collection of short stories, published in 1953, El llano en llamas (The burning plain). In our library you can find it under the title Pedro Páramo (1955), the novella with which it is often published. It is in our Spanish collection, shelved under Rulfo, pages 138-140.

Selection on the statue’s beginning and ending:

(Beginning)…y pesada que pasa por encima de nuestras cabezas. ... (Ending) ... Es que el Llano, señor delegado…


…(We all lift our faces and watch a dark) and heavy (black cloud) that passes above our heads. And we think: “Perhaps.”

We don’t say what we are thinking. The will to speak left us some time ago. The heat chased it away. Somewhere else, a person would talk contentedly, but here, it was just too much work. You talk here and the heat of the day burns up the words in your mouth, so that they dry up on your tongue, taking your breath away.

Such is the way of things here. Because of this, no one feels like talking.

A large, fat drop of water falls, making a hole in the earth and leaving a flattened mass like a gobbet of spit. It falls alone. We wait for more to fall. It does not rain. Now if you look at the sky you’ll see the rain cloud running off into the distance, at full speed. The wind coming from the town closes in, pushing the cloud against the blue shadows of the hills. And the mistaken fallen drop disappears, devoured by the thirsty earth.

Who the hell would make these plains so large? What are they good for, anyway?

We’ve started walking again. We had stopped to see it rain. It didn’t rain. Now we resume walking. It occurs to me that we’ve walked longer than the distance we’ve covered. That occurs to me. If it had rained maybe other thoughts would have occurred to me. At any rate, I know that since I was a boy, I’ve never seen it rain on the plains, not what you could call rain, anyway.

No, the plains are good for nothing. There are not even rabbits or birds. There’s nothing. Nothing besides a few scrawny acacia and a random patch of scrub grass with its blades all coiled; apart from these, there is nothing.

And this is where we are walking. The four of us on foot. Before we rode on horseback, carrying a rifle slung across our chest. Now we don’t even have the rifle.

I’ve always thought that they were right to take away our rifles. Around here it’s dangerous to go around armed. They’ll kill you without warning if you’re seen with your .30-30 strapped to your belt. But the horses are another matter. If we had come on horseback, we’d already have sampled the green river water; we’d be strolling our stomachs down the streets of the town to help settle our meal. We would have already done it if we still had all the horses. But they took the horses away along with the rifles.

I turn full circle and look at the plains. So much land all for nothing. Your eyes slip away, finding not one thing to settle on. Only a few lizards peek their heads out of their holes, and then, feeling the roasting sun, run off to hide themselves under the small shade of a rock. But what about us? When we must work here, what will we do to keep cool from the sun? Because they gave us this crust of a slag heap to sow.

They told us, “From here to the town is all yours.”

We asked, “The Plain?”

“Yes, the plains. The entire Great Plain.”

We opened our mouths to say that we didn’t want the Plain, that we wanted what lay beside the river. From the river beyond, the water meadows, where the trees called casuarinas grow, and there is good, rich grassland. Not this tough cowhide they call the Plain.

But they didn’t let us say these things. The official hadn’t come to converse with us. He put the papers in our hands and told us, “Now don’t you all go and get scared about having so much land of your very own.”

“It’s just that, sir, the Plain….

Translated by Kristen-Marie Freeman Williams, March, 2010


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