One of our favorite field trips last year was to visit the Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylor's Falls, Minnesota. It was a super cool day, full of discovery and awe. Franconia seems to have their mitts in a lot of things, because I saw installations by them at the Art Shanties on Lake Harriet this past winter, and just recently saw one of their sculptures by Lake Nokomis. I read that they were having a grand opening of their new "Commons" building this last Saturday, so off we went on our fall color drive.
The scenery was spectacular on the drive up, with us oohing and ahhing the entire way at all of the red, orange, and gold leaves we were seeing. It was awesome. We took it slow, so we wound up getting to Franconia in the later afternoon, just in time for their ribbon-cutting and speeches for the new facility.
Now, LAST year Franconia couldn't have been more accommodating with our party, which included my recently disabled Mom. They hooked us up with a golf cart, and we were able to speed Mom around and right up to all of the sculptures positioned around the vast acreage of the park. THIS year - and maybe it was because of the Commons hoopla, but still - not a single staff member or volunteer offered to help us, and really couldn't be bothered to care. They could all see me struggling to push Mom's wheelchair through the ankle-deep gravel that the trails are created from, and we were going nowhere fast. And I was getting mad, looking at all the empty golf carts.
Mom saw me fuming, and told me to leave her and go off and look at things, because she's cool like that. But she shouldn't have to be. A lot of the work was the same as last year, so I darted around quickly to see anything that I thought looked new, so I could take a photo of it and go back and show Mom on my phone (lame). I saw the wooden woven basket one that we saw last year, but it looked so pretty with the autumn leaves that it gets to make another appearance.
There was a kind of Mad Max looking monster out of metal nearby ... not my thing, but it looked cool and hard to make.
The grounds are VAST (which is why there should be readily available and free golf carts for the disabled), and that's part of the coolness of it. You never know what will be around the next corner. Probably my favorite of the new work that I saw was The Compact, 2019 by Eliza Evans. It was three female forms made out of concrete, and meant to "examine the compression of individual agency over millenia and our more contemporary assent to the myriad ways we are surveilled, measured, and archived." O.K. It's rare that I see all of what a sculptor says is there or that I really get what they mean visually as compared to what they say it means ... but I'm always up for it. Women Power.
What's Inside, 2019 by Gabrielle Raye Cordes was a blue blob (a body organ?) that "informs relationships between architecture and the body, and the similarities between the two." There are windows, but not doors, as you're not meant to enter. It would be like going up someone's nose. During a time when one's personal space is particularly important, this one's subject matter resonated a bit more clearly.
An outdoor basketball court on the grass was really Dirtball, 2019 by Kosmologym. As you dribble the ball, you break apart and release minerals into the ground, that helps the soil flourish.
As the soil gets richer, it's better able to pull carbon dioxide from the air and reduce global warming! We actually NEED this sculpture! Sculpture with a meaningful purpose is my favorite kind of sculpture.
I love a bird house, and there was a Vegas hotel sized bird house there in the middle of the prairie, that looked to have very few vacancies - even during Covid.
Betsy Alwin of St. Paul, MN created the sculpture titled Vaticinium Ex Eventu which translates to "A prophecy for an event after the fact." The placard said that this concrete and rebar structure indicate the beauty and the chaos inherent in our human condition. I looked at it, and again said, "O.K.", shrugged, and moved along. It would be cool to tour Franconia with the artists sometime, because the explanations on the placards are always a little bit too precious for me, and I want to hear the real nitty-gritty of what they meant. I'll look into it.
Pollinator Rhyton, Agave, and Bats, 2020 by Rachel Frank based on an ancient offering vessel, and like Dirtball, it points out the art's connection to the natural world. Its focus is on the relationship between the agave plant and its pollination by bats - and also its relationship within the park and all the wildflowers and grasses that surround it. Now, that is pretty easy to wrap my head around, and a welcome new addition to Franconia.
Mark di Suvero of NYC showed his Gorky's Pillow, 1987 - a creation of painted steel. di Suvero is a lifelong activist for peace and social justice, and created the Socrates Sculpture Park on a landfill in NY's East River ... but the placard offered no explanation for this particular piece of his. I just thought it looked cool - and if it has a hidden social justice meaning - even better.
There was a newly constructed (I could smell the wood) little open shed to sit in and reflect that was lovely ... but I didn't want to live Mom sitting by herself for very long, so I just did the Griswold nod and headed back to her.
By now, Mom really needed to use the restroom. The only restrooms are inside the new Commons building, and they weren't letting anyone in until after 4:00 pm to give tours of the new space. There are zero other restroom options, not even PortaPotties anywhere. As it was just after 3:00, we were not waiting until after 4:00. Several people wearing laminates told us we'd have to wait - the same people who saw me struggling with the wheelchair in the gravel that told me I'd have to wait until after 4:00 to get a golf cart - as they sat there idle. Well, I absolutely wasn't having it, and pushed Mom right through the doors and straight to the bathroom. And guess what?! No one died from us going in! The tours went on! Whoever needed to still got to feel exclusive! It's really just a gift shop and a tiny gallery room, so I'm not sure why the tours were taking so long, but whatever.
I LOVE Franconia's art ... but this experience left me feeling that the staff is a bit wanting. Like, would they rather clean up after someone's accident than let someone in to use the only bathroom? Like, would it have ruined anyone's day to let us use a golf cart that wasn't being used by anyone else? Was it fun to watch someone nearly horizontal from trying to push a heavy wheelchair through thick gravel up a hill and not offer any solution? Mom and I were both a bit aghast - she to the point of asking to skip Franconia next time and just go look at the surrounding nature, which she prefers anyway. I get that they had a lot going on that day, but to ignore and unapologetically deny a person with disabilities is not a good look. K, there. That's off my chest.
*And Congratulations on your new Commons, Franconia! Just remember that there's some things that are still important during little ceremonies. Thanks.
I hope you will visit the magic of Franconia soon yourselves ... but maybe call ahead if you're bringing someone handicapped to make sure they'll accommodate you - because this was a total bust for my Mom. But "Start Seeing Sculpture!" for sure.
29836 St. Croix Trail North
Shafer, MN 55074
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