Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park

Fred Smith   |  1886-1976  |  Phillips, WI
Embellished concrete environment  |  Created 1948-1964 

Driving on from the Rudolph Grotto and Wonder Cave, past Colby, WI (yes, it is the home of colby cheese), it was a few hours to Phillips and the  main destination that got me in the car this particular weekend.  The book “Detour Art,” which I had been working on night and day, was going to press on Monday and I decided it wouldn’t be complete unless Fred Smith was included.  Much to the chagrin of my editor, I set out to photograph this incredible piece of Americana (as well as Prairie Moon Sculpture Park) and get home to finish the book in time.

The beginning of the twentieth century brought about two inventions that changed the landscape of the world…the automobile and fast setting concrete.  It seems like the folks in the upper Midwest (with all the open spaces) embraced these inventions and set out to take their art to the roadsides, for all to see.  Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park is one of the most amazing ones still around today.  

“Nobody knows why I made them… Not even me.” The sculptural masterpiece began one day in 1948, behind the Fred Smith’s tavern. Before owning the bar, he spent years working in lumber camps. Fred started his environment with the commemorative “Barbecue,” a rock and concrete construct featuring two Indian profiles in relief, reportedly in honor of the Cleveland Indians beating the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series.  Over the next 15 years, Fred filled the property near his home and tavern with more than 250 sculptures immortalizing local history, with subjects as varied as Native Americans, lumberjacks, milkmaids, the area’s popular sculpture form: taxidermy, even “Ben Hur.” 
It became a popular roadside attraction, despite his disdain of cars.  According to local legend, Fred suffered a stroke after working six months straight on his last creation. Thinking he had died, his family put him in the closet until the coroner could arrive.  When the doctor declared him dead, Fred looked up at him and said, “No, I’m not, and I’m going to have a lot of fun with my time yet.”  Although physically limited, he remained sharp and entertaining for another eleven years.

Thanks to folks like the Kohler Foundation and Friends of Fred Smith, his environment is being preserved for all to enjoy for generations to come.

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