On our final fall trip to the U.P. of Michigan we found ourselves driving through Phillips, Wisconsin. I remembered that it was the location of Fred Smith’s Concrete Park. This is quite the place and we usually try and stop if we are in the area.
Fred owned a bar across the street from what is now the park. He spent 15 years Fred, with no art training, filling his property with a cluster of cowboys, Indians, lumberjacks, and farmers; as well as elk, moose, bear, and ducks. He built his ponderous sculptures by wrapping wooden skeletons in wire, layering them with concrete, and embellishing them with glass insulators and Rhinelander Beer bottles from his bar.
More photos from Fred Smith’s Concrete Park can be found on my website
After returning from out trip to Yellowstone my wife and I took a break of one day then headed out to northern Wisconsin in search of fall leaves. We were not having much luck. As we neared Philips, Wisconsin I remembered reading an article about a concrete folk art display. As we approached Philips we saw it along the road so we turned around and drove back to check it out.
In 1948 Fred Smith, a self-taught artist, started constructing his folk art out of concrete and beer bottles. His technique was to build a wooden frame then cover it with wire. He then covered it with cement and beer bottles from his tavern across the street. Smith suffered a stroke in 1964 and was unable to continue his work. By that time he had over 200 sculptures in a small area across from his tavern.
In 1967 a storm destroyed many of the sculptures. Fortunately the Kohler Foundation stepped in and restored many of the sculptures. The park is currently open to the public and is free to visit.