MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If you’ve ever driven by Franconia Sculpture Park in Chisago County, there’s a good chance you did a double take. From the educational to the entertaining, some of the pieces are 40 feet tall. But most people don’t know how all of it got started.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us why the park is having its busiest year on record.

Chisago County is known for its scenery. Nature provided much of it…. artists did the rest.

“A few artists had an idea,” said Ginger Shulick Porcella, executive director. “They wanted to have an outdoor laboratory to make large-scale artwork.”

That was 1996. As Franconia Sculpture Park approaches its 25th anniversary, it has grown in every sense of the word. There are 120 sculptures here on more than 40 acres of land. They come in all shapes and sizes- tall, short, hard to miss, and hidden away.

“A lot of sculpture parks are sort of perfectly manicured landscapes with art plopped into them. Here, it’s more of a discovery,” said Shulick Porcella, who is also the chief curator.

Before discovery, there has to be design. Artists come from around the world to live and work at Franconia.

“I decided a couple years ago to shift my practice to being entirely made out of waste,” said Don Edler, who is from Los Angeles.

Edler will spend weeks at Franconia creating a tablet sculpture that will be buried in the ground, then re-discovered in a year. He uses recycled materials, but his message is based on current events.

“These ideas don’t come out of nowhere. They come from constant work, constant research,” said Edler. “I think this piece invariably will be dedicated to George Floyd.”

“It’s kind of like columns and three benches over here,” said artist Yun Kyoung Chu who is from South Korea. Her sculpture will emphasize equality.

“The color scheme is red because it represents the blood in our vein,” said Kyoung Chu. “We have different skin color, but we are one, you know?”

About a third of the pieces change over every year, as new ones move in. Even on a rainy day, their messages shine through.

“This is a piece by an artist named Emily Van Houten,” said Shulick Porcella while pointing at a chicken house suspended in the air. “It’s about the disappearing rural landscape that many people can relate to.”

The only permanent piece is dedicated to the Tuskegee airmen, and it was created by artist Michael Richards.

“One of the last pieces Michael Richards made before he was tragically killed in 9/11,” said Shulick Porcella.

At Franconia, there’s a goal to connect art with life. The more labor intensive some of the pieces are, the more birds seem to flock to them.

“What I love about this work, even though it wasn’t the artist’s intention, is it’s been appropriated by hundreds of birds,” said Shulick Porcella while pointing at one piece inhabited by a variety of birds. “We love when animals take back art. One of the best examples right here.”

At every corner, a new discovery. A chance to wonder, how, why, and what visitors will find around the next corner.

“Breath-taking, honestly. So incredibly beautiful, so creative and just amazing. And how much work it took to do all this,” said visitors Celeste Krause and her daughter Yvonne Krause.

The last four months at Franconia have been the park’s busiest ever with triple the attendance. They say a lot of that has to do with being able to socially distance at the park.

The park is free, but donations are encouraged.

For more information, including a new event center that will open in September, click here.

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