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Nyberg Park.
The Nyberg sculptures include a giant watermelon inspired by Vining's annual Watermelon Day.

Nyberg Sculpture Park

Field review by the editors.

Vining, Minnesota

In 1989, Ken Nyberg seemed like just an average guy. He worked in construction, and in his spare time he would make little sculptures out of scrap metal, such as an arboreal "family tree," or a dog.

Coffee cup.
Coffee so thick it defies gravity: a tribute to Ken Nyberg's favorite beverage.

Then he decided to build an 11-foot-tall human foot.

"I wanted to make something bigger and better," Ken explained. "And I thought, 'A Big Foot. There couldn't be many of them around. I'd hate to make something that there's a lot of already.'"

Ken worked on Big Foot in secret for over two years. "My wife didn't even know," he said. "I was a little afraid to say anything to anybody. Building a big foot -- you gotta be crazy."

Despite Ken's misgivings, his wife was understanding and his neighbors loved Big Foot so much that they placed it in a permanent spot of honor next to the main road through town. "Now I can get by with anything," said Ken.

Decades have passed since Ken made Big Foot, and his tiny hometown of Vining (pop. 78) has gradually become an outdoor gallery for his metal art (As have neighboring towns such as Henning and Ottertail). Ken's busy hands have created anything-goes pieces such as a dancing knife and spoon with arms and legs, a huge doorknob floating in mid-air, and a giant pair of pliers topped with an equally large cockroach.

Self-portrait of Ken at work.

Many of the sculptures stand in Nyberg Park, next to Big Foot Gas and Grocery. Both the park and the grocery were created by people other than Ken, who is not a self-promoting guy. Here are some examples of his reserved nature from our conversation with him:

Do you know how many sculptures you've made?

"You know, I don't."

Have any galleries asked to show your work?

"Some. But I don't go for that very much."

Does creativity run in your family?

"Not that I know of."

Are you happy that people enjoy your work?

"I'm kind of amazed at the number of people that really appreciate it -- and at the same time I'm sure they're just as many that don't, you know."

One of the sculptures in Nyberg Park is of Ken's daughter Karen, a NASA astronaut who's flown two missions to the International Space Station. Was she pleased with her father's tribute? "I can't really say," said Ken. "I never discussed it."

Astronaut Karen Nyberg.
Ken's astronaut daughter has flown two missions to the International Space Station.

We suspect that Ken really is proud of his work, but the Scandinavian in him keeps him from admitting it. Some of his sculptures, such as a life-size elephant made of lawn mower blades, took Ken hundreds of hours to hammer and weld.

Ken said that once he's completed an artwork he moves on to his next without giving it much thought. "It's whatever hits me that day," he said. "I just do it." He insists that there's no deep or hidden meaning in any of his sculptures, other than his desire to never to do the same thing twice. "I wouldn't be very good on an assembly line."

Inside Big Foot Gas and Grocery is a guest book filled with the signatures of thousands of people who've stopped to visit Nyberg Park. Store manager Glen McDowell told us that Ken likes to look at the book when he comes in for coffee, which he does at least once a day. Ken told us that one of the good things about being retired (he was born in 1938) is that he can stop sculpting and get coffee whenever he wants.

"I don't know that I need all of the attention," Ken said. "I'm not really meant to be stuck out in the public." But he welcomes anyone interested in his art to stop by his workshop if they're in town.

Nyberg Sculpture Park

Big Foot Gas and Grocery

6001 E. Front St., Vining, MN
On the east end of town, on the south side of Hwy 210, next to Big Foot Gas and Grocery. To visit sculptor Ken Nyberg's workshop, drive four blocks west on Hwy 210. When you see the Big Foot sculpture on the left, turn right onto 457th Ave. Drive north 1.5 miles. You'll see the workshop on the right, with more sculptures out front.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

The Big FootThe Big Foot, Vining, MN - < 1 mi.
Ken Nyberg's WorkshopKen Nyberg's Workshop, Vining, MN - 1 mi.
Large StethoscopeLarge Stethoscope, Henning, MN - 6 mi.
In the region:
Original Big Turkey, Frazee, MN - 33 mi.

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