Last weekend, a group of people from the town of Lincoln, Montana, held a celebration at Sculpture in the Wild, a park designed to celebrate their heritage with art. Sculpture in the Wild is the brainchild of Rick Dunkerly, a local resident and artisan knifemaker who serves as executive director for the organization.
"The goal is to invite artists in here to create artwork that responds to environmental and industrial heritage of the Blackfoot Valley," says Dunkerly.
The park is located just east of Lincoln, on 28 acres of land leased from Montana’s Department of Natural Resources. In preparation for the Friday evening celebration, men unload metal folding chairs from the back of a pickup truck and set them up in rows inside an old teepee burner. Teepee burners are huge metal structures used by the logging industry. But this one has been re-purposed as a piece of art by Kevin O’Dwyer, a metalsmith and sculptor from Ireland, who is now Artistic Director for the organization.
"What you’re standing in now is a teepee burner from the old Delaney Saw Mills, out in Lander’s Fork," O'Dwyer explains. "It was used for burning all the refuse during the ‘50s, ‘60s, and into the ‘70s when they were harvesting all the timber in that area. So my concept was to actually take that as an iconic form within the landscape and take that and we moved it 8 miles, here, and re-built it. And from the conversation that I had with some of the elders within the community, when they were young they used to see this glowing at night, because it was burning 24 hours a day. So, what I proposed was bring the teepee burner into this landscape and then using photovoltaic cells and LED wallwasher lights it will actually glow at night as a Montana memory. So it’s called Montana Memory: Re-imagining the Delaney Sawmill Burner."
The teepee burner is one of many sculptures located in the park. In 2014, five artists—from Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. —created sculptures from wood and metal and newspaper. This year, five more artists are working on new pieces. But they’ve all had help, and that, as it turns out, has been good for the community. Annette Gardner, teacher and Chair of the Education Committee for Sculpture in the Wild, explains.
"It was hard at first, to ask people to help. And Steven Siegel, in particular, needed—I believe his sculpture’s made with something like 30 tons of newspaper, and he couldn’t do it alone at all. So lots of people came to help and I think that might have been the coolest thing that happened. Now, it’s not just the school kids, and it’s not just the sculptors, and it’s not just The Committee. It’s all the people who helped every day for two or three weeks."
Many of those helpful people are out here today. And their children are enjoying activities like face painting and grasshopper races. Meanwhile, back in the teepee burner…
Brandon Ballengée: Hello, my name is Brandon Ballengée. I’m an artist and a biologist. And so I create art works that are informed by science and ecosystems and ecology. And what we’re looking at is a love motel for insects, which is a series of sculptures I started ever a decade ago that utilize ultraviolet light to attract nocturnal insects like moths and beetles and even some butterflies. And then I organize field trips, nocturnal field trips, for people to come out and bug watch and try to learn a little bit about especially important pollinator species and bugs we would never pay attention to.
Brandon Ballangée also teaches kids about bugs. Last week, ten-year-old Jaylin had a great time during his day camp. Well, mostly.
"We ate bug pizza and ant candy. The mealworms tasted like potato chips. It was gross."
Six-year-old Jordon wasn’t quite as adventurous.
"I did not eat the pizza ‘cause I thought it would be bad," Jordon said.
According to nine-year-old Jessica, learning about bugs and making art outside was exciting.
"I hunted for some cool bugs and I made paint out of fruit and vegetables. And, I had fun."
Annette Gardner noticed changes in her students after they interacted with the professional artists.
"They have things to say now, and opinions about sculptures, you know, not just here," Gardner notes. "But now when we’re going through a book they’ll pause and they’ll say now this is a sculpture and they talk with one another about what they think about that—does that seem like it’s abstract or is it real, and how is that like the ones that are in our park, our sculptures."
Becky Garland, President of the Board, has high hopes for this project.
"The businesses in Lincoln have been searching and looking for a shot in the arm, if you will, to help us sustain our small businesses and help us keep our children here in Lincoln, and their children here in Lincoln, and the school open. And we’re working hard at sustaining Sculpture in the Wild and its longevity and hoping that will be a building block for good steady economics in Lincoln."
In the meantime, inside the teepee burner, people are seated on the folding chairs, enjoying music performed by one of their own: Diane Krier.