Wisconsin is well-known around the nation for a proliferation of roadside art. Many of the artists were self-taught, adding to the intrigue, if you will, of farmers and tavern keepers becoming artists because something inside them had to come out. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Statue.
Fred Smith owned a bar near Phillips, Wisconsin, and next to it he created one of the state’s most unique treasures, now known as the Wisconsin Concrete Park. Over the years Fred made more than 200 statues. I can’t imagine how many times people asked him why.
His answer seems simple: “It’s gotta be in ya to do it.” Clearly one could delve deeper than that, for the motivations must have involved heritage, history, patriotism, humor, local culture and scores of other reasons. (In those days bar owner Fred had a lot of glass bottles to get rid of.) For the visitor, the joy is not just the art – but wondering what the motivation was for any particular work.
Saturday, September 26, 2015 is a perfect day to visit the Concrete Park. The Friends of Fred Smith is hosting the Celebration of Arts in Action, a daylong event intended for……well, just about everybody.
Visitors who want to participate are offered an array of instant opportunities to create art in four different mediums: painting on a life-sized mural, glazing and firing raku pottery, decorating the park garage with mosaics, and painting open-air, postcard-sized landscapes. All open-air paintings completed at the park are eligible for entry into the competition for cash prizes. Judging starts at 4 p.m. and awards are given thereafter. All materials for each medium will be provided. That’s a pretty neat deal!
The event runs from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. There will also be a quilt display, live music by the Highland Bluegrass Band, an auction and great food make this a wonderful event for the entire family. I bet kids will love it. If you’re a parent with a carload you know how important that is.
But back to Fred and the others who seemed to come out of nowhere to create these places. When you visit the Concrete Park take some time to really look at the statues. (My kids love the skunks in the back.) Dedications to soldiers and depictions of country life are more obvious, but other pieces really get a person thinking.
And if you’re more ambitious a lot of information about Fred and other Wisconsin environment builders is just a search engine or a visit to your library away. A good place to start is the Kohler Foundation web site.
The Wisconsin Concrete Park is a Wandering Wisconsin Roadside Art Experience and one of five special art environments hosting a Plein Air Painting event this year.
Wandering Wisconsin is group of nine art environment steward organizations. And I would be remiss not to thank a wonderful public/private partnership for their support of all the events, so a tip of the hat goes to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the Kohler Foundation.
Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI (Pop. 288)