One of the first things you’ll probably see when you pull up to the Franconia Sculpture Park is a wall made of boomboxes. What a great introduction, right? You don’t have to ask any questions, you don’t have to wonder the meaning of anything, you can just look at it and say “Sweet! A wall made of boomboxes.”
It’s called Got the Power: Minnesota. This piece was created by Bayeté Ross Smith in 2011 and has held up to the elements pretty well. According to Bayeté Ross Smith’s website, there are other Got the Power sculptures around the U.S. Each one plays local community members’ stories and favorite songs. You can find more information about the project on his website; and check out the sculptures’ playlists at gotthepower.tumblr.com. Information about the Franconia sculpture is on Page 2.
I saw a boombox on this wall very similar to one I had as a child. It had the curved edges, and the speakers didn’t pull apart. It was just one whole unit. It only had a cassette deck. I didn’t get a CD player until I was in eighth or ninth grade. My first CD was Soundgarden’s Superunknown.
My next 24 CDs were obtained for a total of two cents when I ripped off two of those “12 CDs for a penny” mail marketing companies. By purchasing those CDs, you technically signed up for some club and owed a substantial sum; but since I wasn’t 18 yet, they couldn’t do anything to come after me. That’s how I was able to procure a copy of the Murder was the Case soundtrack, have my mother find it and take it away, devise a better hiding spot, and order a second one.
Those companies don’t seem to exist anymore – I wonder why – but I had a big smile and a quiet laugh as I walked away from Got the Power. It won’t be the last time you smile at the Franconia Sculpture Park.
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Free and open to the public, dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
You stop wondering if you can explore the Franconia Sculpture Park the second you land on their website. Once you walk past the boomboxes, the park seems to stretch for miles. It doesn’t quite stretch for miles, but it does cover 43 acres there at the corner of St. Croix Trail and Highway 8, just outside Taylors Falls.
There’s no way you miss the giant thumb poking out of the ground with a deer painted on its manicured fingernail. This was done by Kari Reardon, a Minneapolis native now living in Los Angeles. The gun you see a few meters away is part of the sculpture, too. When it was first installed, visitors were able to fire a laser from that gun at the deer’s behind. You were aiming at a small heart tattoo. If you missed, lights and sounds from the sculpture let everyone know.
Reardon began this sculpture in 2009 and completed it in 2010. She uses acrylic nails a lot in her artwork, as you’ll see on her website. Other works include a bearskin rug whose face rocks a diamond grill; and a power button you can stand on for selfies while a security camera watches from directly overhead.
You might even see Reardon’s nail from the highway as you’re approaching. You might also see an oval-shaped metal structure with what look like small sails inside its frame catching the wind. There are over 120 sculptures at the park in all, ranging from a mud puppy made of wood to a lizard wearing a nightclub on its back. You’ll see a tiny house with a boat in its tiny front yard; you’ll see what looks like a scale-model murder house dangling from cords in a metal frame. The playground is a sculpture. There’s a poster book of graffiti hiding someplace.
Franconia offers hot metal mold-making workshops during the summertime, which allow guests to carve out molds and create their own cast iron sculptures. A section of the park’s grounds is transformed into an outdoor foundry, and artists currently in residence at the park* heat the furnace to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chunks of iron are dumped into the furnace by bucket; the iron flows out through a pipe, sun-bright and lava-hot. That iron gets poured into sand slates, which guests carve designs into. Everything from nails or dental cleaning tools are offered as carving utensils.
They actually let me near all this stuff, so I attended a workshop and made my own sculpture.
I carved a sketchy-looking jug on a generic flat surface. It’s so simple because I got this far without screwing it up, and decided not to press my luck any harder. My half-sister Frances wrote the word KAPOSIA into her slate. That was the name of the puppy she brought with her that day, a puppy she was considering adopting. She did adopt him, and changed his name to Gus.
We were done in about 90 minutes, but guests have about four hours should you aim for something more intense than a Mario Paint-quality portrait or simply carving a word (which, to be fair, wasn’t that easy since you have to write the word backwards).
The 2019 schedule has not yet been released, but more information about Franconia’s hot metal pouring events can be found on the park’s website. The park recently underwent a change in leadership after park co-founder and former Artistic Director/CEO John Hock was terminated by the park’s board of directors, per a Star Tribune article published October 2. Reid A. Zimmerman is serving as interim director.
The park has been open since 1996. The website’s About page states 40 artists per year partake in the park’s residency program, and over 100,000 people visit the park annually.