ART DAY in Sioux Falls
MORNING WITH SCULPTURE
Phillips Avenue is busy this morning—what with the kids blocking foot traffic to stroke the tiger and her cub, so deceptively friendly—before she pounces. Funny she’s not interested in the sheep so close by. Probably waiting to attack the kid just lying there in the middle of the street reading, she’ll only have to carry her prey down the block to feed her baby.
Historical, whimsical and mysterious characters greet us as we stroll along Sioux Fall’s main street. Canteen Lady only takes us back to WWII but Robert the Bruce recalls times of yore and then Abel offers something for the faithful and Bacchus for wine lovers. Cabin Fever is me as a kid and it’s January in Minnesota.
SculptureWalk is a politically-correct mix of representational and abstract sculpture with many pieces that do not quite fit either category. In the nonfigurative category, I am thrilled to find two pieces by Albuquerque artist Joe Sackett. Joe is an interesting and eclectic guy and his work reflects those qualities: Twenty-Seven (China) is a cube made out of 27 steel handlebars of Chinese made bicycles around a hub of smaller bike parts and Persona offers a personal statement about core personalities constrained by societal expectations and regulations.
SculptureWalk must be unique in the US; a deliciously diverse collection of sculpture by artists across the country who loan the pieces to the exhibit for one year. Anyone can vote for the “People’s Choice Award” which is then purchased as part of the City’s permanent collection, and a number of the sculptures are purchased by the various sponsoring businesses for display at their sites.
It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. August; sunny; friendly, admiring and amused pre-lunch strollers in a downtown trying to hang on like so many others all across the country. The stores sell quality-of-life kinds of things such as boutique clothing, antiques, souvenirs and books; the restaurants become jazz bars in the evenings and I’m told there are new apartment buildings as well, all hoping to attract youth and life back to a low-key but potentially lively city center.
Cousins Vivian and Marty (Richard’s wife’s; she was the Register of Deeds in Sioux Falls for many years and one of my mom’s favorite people in the world) and I eat ordinary sandwiches and then go to the sweet shop for extraordinary desserts of caramel and cheesecake and oozing chocolate topped off with giant cups of coffee. Back to the car, stopping to pat one of my favorites, the friendly musk ox, Tundra, patiently waiting to get the year over with and get back to—the tundra. Although the artist is from Maryland so maybe he’s always restricted to city streets. No wonder he appears a little sad.
AFTERNOON WITH CREATURES
Time to leave the heart of artful Sioux Falls and head west on I-90 to Montrose and the Porter Sculpture Park. In an article in the Argus Leader, Peter Harriman describes the park like this: …”dozens of quirky metal sculptures constructed of old farm implements, water tanks and railroad steel plate.” He also says meeting the artist, Wayne Porter, is “…like running across Michelangelo at Wall Drug.” (Wall Drug started out as an ordinary drugstore in a very small South Dakota town and grew into a sort of shopping mall/western heritage museum, etc. about 60 miles from the Black Hills. It is primarily famous for its many billboards throughout South Dakota and beyond which, like Burma Shave signs, became an experience onto themselves.).
The Porter Sculpture Park is on a prairie hilltop so the visitor is always viewing the quirky creatures birthed in Porter’s fertile imagination against the backdrop of grazing lands, fields of corn and the occasional farm—or perhaps that’s the lair to which these strange and engaging beings retire at night. This is one of those magical places, like Christiania in Copenhagen or the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo where everyday experiences and things aren’t welcome.
There’s a golf cart for transportation or you can walk. Not many people. Wander. Connect with your inner child or inner demon or inner photographer.
The signature creature is a Bull Head which Porter says represents “an extinct Egyptian Long Horn…made mostly out of railroad plates welded together.” Bull Head is huge, overseeing the I-90 traffic, sympathizing perhaps with all the beef cattle within his purview that will soon be somebody’s steak, guarding the entrance to this netherworld of odd companions.
Coming down on the train from northern Minnesota when I was a kid, Sioux Falls represented THE CITY and the little house on Van Eps, the cousins, mom and aunt Mabel being sad with each other—unfaithful husband or hard times on the Minnesota farm stories, big meals with jovial uncle George teasing me, the smell of the Morrell meat packing plant where some relatives worked. I had no idea that in the future South Dakota would mean land of George McGovern and Sioux Falls would mean ART.