The Wisconsin Concrete Park is the creation of Fred Smith, a logger and homesteader who was born in Ogema and spent much of his life in Phillips.
Born to immigrant parents Sept. 20, 1886, Smith received no formal education and began working in the logging camps of the Northwoods while still in his teens. He met and married his wife Alta, and they raised five children together on his 120-acre homestead in Phillips. When Smith wasn’t logging, he was engaged in other pursuits — growing Christmas trees and ginseng and operating the Rock Creek Tavern.
His first foray into the world of eclectic art came about with his ornamental rock garden, which he created near the tavern. It wasn’t until Smith retired from logging in 1948, however, that his artist side really began to blossom.
Created with the tools and materials he had handy — wood, concrete, stones, broken glass, and animal bones — Smith began to create the statues that would one day make the Wisconsin Concrete Park famous.
The figures he modeled were ones he was familiar with from growing up in northern Wisconsin: Native Americans, teams of horses (with real horses’ jawbones under the concrete), white tailed deer, and lumberjacks.
His imagination couldn’t be limited only to what he was familiar with, however; Smith began adding sculptures of lions, moments from film, a Statue of Liberty, and mythical creatures including a muskie so massive it had to be pulled from Soo Lake by a team of horses.
What triggered Smith to create the sculptures remained unknown, even to Smith himself. As he was once quoted as saying, “It’s gotta be in ya to do it.”
Smith loved showing off his artwork to other people, and was a firm believer that there should be no charge for people to come see what he had created — hence the reason there is no charge to visit the Concrete Park today.
When he passed away on Feb. 21, 1976, the property was purchased by the Kohler Foundation, and in 1978, it was gifted to Price County.
Today the park draws visitors from all over the United States and even a few international visitors, according to park director Pam Retzlaff.