Twin Cities COVID day trip: Franconia Sculpture Garden

We all need a reason to get away. We can’t go very far. We can’t do too much but there are things we can do and I’m going to try to track them as I do them – starting with a long time favorite, Franconia Sculpture Garden.

Franconia is about an hour away from the Twin Cities. It’s free. (Donations welcome of course!) It’s outdoors with no gate or door. So it’s open at all times. There are 120 sculptures covering their 43 acre gallery. Artists come from all over the world for residencies at Franconia. (In fact, applications are open until November 15 for 2021 residencies.) And there’s now a community center, which is new since my last visit last summer. There’s a small indoor gallery and café and restrooms. I’d say, once the world opens up, this would be a great place for an event.

But for today – during COVID – it’s an natural place for social distancing. There’s just so much space. There are some sculptures you can climb on – and I went up every ladder, despite a terrible fear of heights. It was generally worth is with great views and graffiti from the higher vantage point. Monica and I actually clocked in almost 3 miles walking around the art. (As a bonus task, we took pictures with the Love Vote Rise poster to encourage voting!!)

At the broad swath, I love see the bigness of the art. My longtime favorite Reclamation by Melanie VanHouten, a reclaimed shed hanging from a steel frame. She focuses on themes of grief and loss and uses materials that will decompose. I’ll have some tears when this one goes done. It makes me think of Aunty Em’s house in the Wizard of Oz.

I am always touched by Michael Richards’ Are you Down?, three life-size human figures surrounding a target, which represent the artist in uniform as a Tuskegee Airman. There’s something touching about the faces of the sculptures. A little added background – in 2001 Mr. Richards was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. Franconia redid his work from fiber glass to bronze in his memory.

The mirrors called the Clearing by Jennifer Newsome and Tom Carruthers are a big hit. As Monica says, who doesn’t like a series of mirrors. They are set up so that when you look into them you can see yourself reflected to eternity.

Chris Laron’s Lorraine Motel Sign Re-sited 2016 is a replica of the Lorraine Motel sign was relocated from Memphis, TN to Franconia, MN. The motel was the location of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Chris is from St Paul; I know his work; well mostly I know some of his video installations and work he did on Wise Blood at the Soap Factory.

Steadying Pause by Erin Paradis is a serious nod to Arizona. Or at last that’s what we saw and we decided we better embrace them as a rare opportunity to even think about sunshine.

There are so many. It’s a good place to take a kid because you really can climb on a lot of the works or look deep into the details. There’s the Monty Python aspect of Lew Colburn’s A Souvenir of the Minnesota State Fair, 1910 (Butter Roosevelt), the weird silky looking draping from the actually more burlap-like giant drape of Jordan Rosenow’s We Move Still and the heaps of people in cast iron in Don’t Live Life in the Doorway by Kevin Vanek.

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