Folk art oxen team and other figures.
Folk art oxen team and other figures.

Fred Smith's Concrete Park

Field review by the editors.

Phillips, Wisconsin

At Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park, alongside a highway in Phillips, a jumbled crowd of over two hundred folk art figurines clog the landscape. It's a park that is eternally crowded with revelers, and beer bottles -- if not beer -- abound. The public is invited to wander through this impressive sculptural display.

A son of German immigrants, Fred Smith was born in 1886, and spent his working life as a north woodsman. With two other men, he built the Rock Garden Tavern in 1936, which he ultimately managed after his retirement from lumberjacking in 1949. In 1950 this self-taught sculptor began crafting his unique entourage of cowboys, miners, Indians, and soldiers.

Miner.

His first masterpiece was inspired by the image of a large antlered deer leaping over a log that he had noticed on a boy's sweater.

He used beer bottles from his tavern to decorate the life-size concrete horde, which mostly crowds the front of the park along Hwy. 13. He built the broad-shouldered, blocky characters starting with wooden frames wrapped with mink wire, then layered with concrete and various junk-art materials. Some figures ride concrete horses or drive teams of concrete oxen; others stand in long rows, the sun glinting off of their glassy armor. Ben Hur and a distorted angel loom among their followers. Two wedding parties wonder who invited the coolies...

A stroke suffered by Smith in 1964 brought the impressive project to a halt. He talked of additions up until his death in 1976. Soon after, a storm knocked down 70% of the figures. The park was restored by the Kohler Foundation and turned over to the county, so it's free! It's now maintained by the "Friends of Fred Smith" non-profit org.

Indian.

The town holds an annual Wisconsin Concrete Park Celebration in mid-August. Past events have featured a tuba band and a puppet show depicting Fred Smith's life, taking its title from his most oft repeated quote about his obsession: "It's Gotta Be In Ya to Do It."

Fred Smith's Concrete Park -- a silent litterbug tribunal that trumpets a visionary recycling ethic.

Also see: VIDEO: Speed Tour at Concrete Park

Fred Smith's Concrete Park

Address:
N8236 State Hwy 13, Phillips, WI
Directions:
North-central Wisconsin, south of Phillips, Hwy. 13.
Phone:
715-339-6475
RA Rates:
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November 27, 2014

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