Fred Smith's Concrete Park
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.
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.
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.