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Art al Fresco
Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the May/June 1997 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.
How many pieces of outdoor sculpture exist in South Dakota? In the early 1990s, when that question was originally asked, the highest estimate was 50 works. By the fall of 1994, volunteers with Save Outdoor Sculpture South Dakota had inventoried nearly 200 pieces. Reviewing the geography of South Dakota's cache of outdoor monuments, one is struck by the democracy of the phenomenon — they are found in communities ranging from Allen, Bowdle, Bullhead, Epiphany, Marty and Salem to bigger cities like Aberdeen, Mitchell, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Yankton. Score one for the artistic vitality of South Dakota.
South Dakota is proud of its most celebrated outdoor sculpture, an awareness that has led to serious proposals that the state should call itself "The Monument State." The Shrine to Democracy at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, with their international appeal, have made South Dakota famous for monumental sculpture, and these works dominate our sense of what public sculpture should be.
But to fully understand South Dakota's heritage of public sculpture, we must revere the more modest works that enrich our parks, campuses and city squares. Despite the hardships of prairie life and the sparseness of population, communities across the state began early to mark their benefactors, heroes and moments of triumph and tragedy with outdoor sculpture.
Among the oldest outdoor pieces in the state are monuments to valor in war — the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. An early example is the 17-foot granite sculpture in Watertown titled "Company H Monument" dedicated in 1902. Located on the Codington County Courthouse lawn, it was erected in memory of soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899. As is frequently the case with such early statues, the artist is unknown but the piece was erected by the Watertown Monument Works.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic war memorials in the state is "Spirit of the American Doughboy" in Bullhead. This mass-produced metal tribute to those who served in World War I was created by artist E. M. Viquesney in 1920 and erected in 1935. The war memorial was presented by the Hunkpapa Band of the Sioux Nation. There are at least 138 life-size copies of "The Spirit of the American Doughboy" in 35 states, but few presented with such attention to setting.
Other outdoor sculptures were inspired by important community leaders, like the six-foot stone sculpture of General John A. Logan at the South Dakota State Veterans' Home in Hot Springs. General Logan served in the Civil War and was the third Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War's Veterans' Association.
The number of South Dakota's public sculptures grew with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression. The concrete and stone "Dinosaur Park" in Rapid City is an example of this, as are the various concrete and stone works in Chamberlain.
Following the Second World War, a new generation of academic and professional artists began to work in the state on an ever-increasing number of public and corporate commissions. Assisted by a vital public arts movement invested largely in the newly-formed South Dakota Arts Council, the 1970s saw the beginning of an explosion in public sculpture. Across the state, sculptors like Michael Tuma and Dale Lamphere made reputations for themselves in the area of public monuments. Lamphere's 1991 seven-foot, seven-inch bronze and granite work "Citadel"is an excellent example of the vitality of public art in South Dakota.
In addition, there are always those very special artistic spirits who, moved by the moment or by a sense of fun, create immediate expressions of joyous perception. Often considered the amateur, these artists fit the essence of the definition — one who does for love. South Dakota is blessed with a tradition of the folk sculptor who creates for the joy it gives him and the people who see his work. Today, new talents are emerging in South Dakota, who continue to capture our history and culture, our momentous events, and our aesthetic musings for public reflection and celebration.
Outdoor Art Today
Outdoor art has experienced a resurgence since this story was originally written in 1997. Here's a few of the communities in which you can take in fresh air and great art.
- SculptureWalk Sioux Falls adds art appreciation to the Phillips Avenue shopping experience.
- Rapid City is now the City of Presidents, with bronzes of our nation's past leaders.
- RiverWalk sculptures grace downtown Yankton and Riverside Park.
- Pierre is developing its Trail of Governors, which will feature life-size statues of South Dakota's chief executives