Discovering spectacular sculptures in an unlikely place
July 13, 2022
This is the season when travelers make elaborate plans to visit special places. To get to that desired "destination point" may require making reservations well ahead of the planned visit. Additional travel plans may be needed. Sometimes special gear or clothing has to be acquired.
But sometimes travelers just blunder on to a special place and have an "aha" moment, asking themselves "why have I never visited here before?" It was during one of those latter inadvertent stumbles when my wife and I discovered, and totally enjoyed, a visit to Blackfoot Pathways Sculpture in the Wild on the eastern outskirts of Lincoln, Montana.
We were on our way back after a week with family in the Seattle area and decided to spend the night in Lincoln. Next morning we headed toward Great Falls, and home, on Montana Highway 200. On the east edge of Lincoln we saw the twin "tree trunks entwined with small branches." We had read the signs indicating the turn at the twin trees and often said, "We should stop and see what that is all about." But, usually in a hurry to get on west or anxious to get home, we never stopped. This trip we had some time and decided to pull in between the two weird looking trees and see what was back in the forest.
What we found is special...a 26-acre park in a beautiful stand of Ponderosa pines dotted with 20- plus large-scale artistic installations, one towering 80 feet above the forest floor. Each of the installations, per the self-guiding brochure available at the site, celebrates "the rich environmental, industrial and cultural heritage of the Blackfoot Valley," the area where the town of Lincoln and the surrounding community is located. The park began in 2014 and each sculpture in the park is a particular artist's interpretation of some aspect of the area's history and culture.
How Sculpture in the Wild began
The idea for this unique artistic/historical/cultural project was the result of a chance meeting between an Irish silversmith, who also does environmental sculpture and a Lincoln-area rancher who is also a Damascus steel knife maker. They came up with an idea to invite artists from around the world to come to Lincoln and create artistic works that showcased the community's economic and cultural traditions.
In 2014 a symposium was organized and five artists, from the USA, Finland, Denmark and Ireland, visited Lincoln. Each created a work related to the Blackfoot Valley using natural and industrial materials from the area. Since some of the works involved extensive site preparation, moving materials to the build sites and actual erecting of the art work, a small army of volunteers was on hand to help.
During the three-week build in 2014 about 300 local school children also visited the site. They got to see the sculptures in the process of being built and visited with the artists to hear how the idea for the installation was created and how the sculpture reflected some aspect of the community. Each year two or more new sculptures were completed with the total now about 20 in place. The costs to complete the works are supported through various foundations and fund-raising efforts and gifts from visitors from all around the world.
A brief walk around the sculpture park
The centerpiece of the park is the 80-foot-tall old Delaney Sawmill Sawdust Burner, visible from most every part of the park once a visitor begins walking the paths to the sculptures. The 10-ton industrial icon was dismantled and moved seven miles from its original site and erected in the sculpture park. The inside of the steel burner now houses a spectacular photography exhibit about the local timber industry and the round space is used for lectures and other presentations. Folks of a certain era will recall that virtually every sawmill across certain parts of Montana once had a similar teepee burner. Those burners are mostly all gone now.
Just down a path from the old burner is Tree Circus. The artist chose the materials to reflect the surrounding pine forest. The shape and 'leaning' of the structure mirrors the towering pines. Visitors can walk in to this sculpture and look up through some of the ten chambers to view the surrounding trees. The artist wrote "the design mimics the shape of the tops of the surrounding pines." Visitors are encouraged to come up with their own interpretations of the sculptures...I found the cone towers of Tree Circus reminiscent of photo's I've seen of the giant ant hills in certain parts of Africa. Hey, "Remember, art is in the eye of the beholder," or something like that.
Even the eye-catching trees at the Gateway to the park have special meaning to the Finnish sculptor. He designed the sculpture to imitate the "DNA double helix." Concerned about global climate change, the artist wrote that DNA may hold the solution to life's ability to transform and adapt to the fallout of climate change.
For more information...
Sculpture in the Wild Park is open sunrise to sundown and there is no charge to visit. Just off the highway is a large parking area with adjoining vault toilets and picnic tables-a nice stop for a break driving. For the Park's website type "scultpureinthewild.com" in to your browser. There's also a short video (about one minute) online about the Park. Search: vimeo.com/channels/955327 to watch the video.