Worth a Visit: Wisconsin Concrete Park

Wisconsin Concrete Park, Wisconsin© 2009 Crex Meadows Wildlife AreaFigures made of concrete and adorned with broken glass were the stock in trade of Fred Smith, who turned to folk sculpture when he retired.

Hwy. 13, Phillips, Wisconsin

Fred Smith and his amazing colorful concrete sculptures are a part of the lore and legend of this part of Wisconsin. A lumberman, Smith retired at the age of 64 in 1950 and immediately began to make his folk-art sculptures—an impulse that, he said, “just comes to me naturally.” By the time a stroke disabled him 15 years later, he had created more than 200 figures. He refused to sell to collectors, choosing to leave his work “for the American people.”

Smith’s farm is now a public park, and his artistic endeavor preserved there is a strange but delightful collection of concrete figures: giant Native Americans, folk heroes, scenes from movies and history, life-size deer, bears, and other animals, and local characters whom Smith knew, such as Mabel the Milker milking a cow. Some pieces incorporate real buggies and wagons. His last work portrayed a beer wagon drawn by a team of eight Clydesdale horses. Smith applied his concrete over a frame of wood and chicken wire and then embedded bits of glass and other materials in the surface for decoration. The resulting figures are storybook primitives with a rigid straight-armed stance. The effect is at once outrageous, touching, funny, and charming.

Open year-round but partly inaccessible when snow is deep. Admission free but donations encouraged.


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