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Finding Minnesota: Franconia Sculpture Park

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
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FRANCONIA TOWNSHIP, Minn. (WCCO) — Ever driven by something that made you do a double-take? It’s happened many times to people traveling through Chisago County, as they come to the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 95 in Franconia Township.

There you encounter something that just might have you asking, what the heck is that?

They are larger than life and in some cases, even a little bit creepy. Huge sculptures — spread out — in the middle of a field.

For an artist, this open space can be both inspiring and intimidating.

“The park itself can be challenging because the sky is the limit. A lot of people make studio work that is smaller. They are given the opportunity here, the work can be a lot larger,” said John Hock, the artistic director.

Sixteen years ago Hock and a couple of his friends decided to open something different — and Franconia Sculpture Park was born.

Today hundreds of artists from around the world compete for fellowships that allow them the chance to create something spectacular here. Minneapolis sculptor Aaron Dysart is one of the chosen ones.

“It is a tree and it’s not a tree because the bark has been removed,” he said of his sculpture. “By removing that stuff we can see the linear structure of the form itself.”

He also talked about his work in progress.

“Everything around here, not only is the size big, but the ambition is giant as well,” he said.

There are very few restrictions on the materials the artists can use. It just has to be stuff that is sturdy and weather proof.

New pieces replace old ones each year here but now, there’s an exception. One sculpture, called “Are You Down?” is in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.

But the artist who created it is now part of another important piece of American history. He was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked in New York.

Sculptor Michael Richards was working at a studio inside the building that morning.

One year prior to that, he spent months here at the Franconia Sculpture Park, working on his craft.

“For the last six years, we have been slowly building momentum to write grants to take the original fiber glass sculpture, which was deteriorating from the sun and to cast it in bronze, and this is what we have done,” Hock said.

Richards used his own face and body to create the mold for those lifelike figures in his sculpture.

There is a dedication ceremony for the piece on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. at the sculpture park. Find out more here.

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