The Concrete Park, Revisited
The town of Phillips, Wisconsin, is home to this masterpiece of Primitive Folk Art:
Over two hundred sculptures fashioned from concrete on wire mesh, adorned with shards of glass and other cast-offs, are situated in a pleasant park on the south side of this small town. Fred Smith, a tavern owner, constructed these over a period of years in the 50's and 60's for reasons unknown ("I don't know why I make 'em") out of concrete and empty beer and liquor bottles. Walking among the sculpture took me back not 50 but 50 THOUSAND years - the same feeling as viewing prehistoric art. The impact of the work was strong, but its meaning was elusive. With Indians, Cowboys, Animals and Pioneers as subjects, you could sense what was important to Fred in his life.
While there, I thought of my own attempts at "art" and of classical Greek and Roman sculpture. Every artist is trying to state something, trying to externalize a perception of existence and make it into a physical reality. Fred succeeded, to a degree. But there is just enough mystery in these figures to give them an added dimension of spiritual resonance, of totemism, as if they were keys to the doors to his primordial subconscious.
First published Sept 4th, 2006