The life of Fred Smith is the history of northern Wisconsin. A child of German immigrants, Smith worked as a lumberjack in the great pine forests, farmed land that had been cleared of trees, and owned a tavern on a busy highway south of Phillips just as the region became dependent on a tourist economy.
On the land he once farmed and had his tavern is the concrete sculpture garden he built that today is one of the most popular tourist stops in the region. It also tells the story of northern Wisconsin.
From the lumberjacks and the tall Paul Bunyan that were among the first free-standing sculptures he made, to the farmers plowing stump-filled clearings with a team of oxen, the sculptures celebrate a way of life Smith witnessed and, indeed, lived. You can see it for yourself by taking our Quicktime virtual tour.
Moose and deer as well as Native American images are a part of the landscape. A self-taught artist with no formal education of any sort, Smith clearly respected nature and self-sufficiency. Of one work, Mable the Milker, he said, "She has tried all the power milk machines...She finds that hand milking will beat anything in the long run."
In fact, because Smith was unable to read or write he dictated descriptions of his sculptures to a typist who transcribed them verbatim. Thus the works that strive to preserve a way of life are described in the now fading dialect of their creator.
But the most famous quote of Fred Smith's is the one that has become the unofficial motto of The Wisconsin Concrete Park and the only explanation offered for why he created this remarkable environment: "It's gotta be in ya to do it."