Wandering Wisconsin


In 1948, Fred Smith began construction of what is known today as the Wisconsin Concrete Park. Smith created an array of characters for this wonder in Phillips, which is now considered to be one of America’s most extraordinary displays of vernacular art.

Smith (1886–1976) grew up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and earned a living as a lumberjack. He also grew Christmas trees and ginseng to help support his family. A self-taught artist, at age 62 he began creating the 237 embellished concrete and mixed media sculptures and continued building them until 1964. He stated, “Nobody knows why I made them, not even me. This work just came to me naturally. I started one day in 1948 and have been doing a few a year ever since.”

Smith created armatures of wood, steel pipe, and wire and then covered them with cement. He placed brown beer bottle pieces, mirror shards, reflectors, colored glass, rocks, and other materials at hand into the wet cement. Smith got his materials for nothing. He told the story of the history of the region through his sculptures by depicting people, animals, and events from folklore and his imagination. Included amongst the life-size figures are Paul Bunyan, Ben Hur, and Sacajawea.

N8236 State Hwy 13
Phillips, WI 54555
Best seen during daylight hours.

Fred Smith, End of the Road tableau (site view, Wisconsin Concrete Park, Phillips, WI), 1948–64. Hans Everson's Kerosene Wagon (site view, Wisconsin Concrete Park, Phillips, WI)