Preservation Background

After Fred Smith’s death in 1976, the Wisconsin Concrete Park became separated from the Rock Garden Tavern when the Kohler Foundation, Inc. purchased the present-day 16.3 acres which constitute the park and began restoration in early 1977. Statues in close proximity to the tavern were moved to their new locations to the east of the main cluster of statues, and other necessary measures were being taken to ensure the visual appeal of the park.

However, on July 4, 1977, a windstorm of tremendous force now called the “Downburst” blew threw the area. The Phillips Airport anemometer registered winds of 100 miles per hour before it was blown away, and researchers estimate that the winds reached up to 157 mph before the storm moved on, leaving devastation in its wake.

Due to the damage to the statues and natural elements, the visual aspect of the site was significantly altered as many of the majestic large growth trees were lost and over 70 percent of the statues were damaged. Still, restoration continued and was completed in the fall of 1978 when Kohler Foundation gifted the site to Price County.

Additional conservation work was being done in 1987 when a second windstorm occurred, causing preservationists to begin what would become an annual maintenance program. Today the Friends of Fred Smith, Inc. (founded in 1995), in cooperation with Price County and through the generous support of volunteers and donors, strives to ensure the aesthetic beauty of the park while incorporating measures which work to ensure the longevity of the pieces for years to come.

Annual Preservation Objectives

Wisconsin Concrete Park preservation activities strive to maintain the sculptures, historical Fred Smith house, and landscape as integrated entities, keeping them as close as possible to their original state and context. These activities are planned according to the highest preservation and conservation standards achievable, and the scope of the site and the conditions it is exposed to necessitate the annual maintenance and conservation mentioned above. Preservation activities address sculptures and tableaux in order of prioritized need. The Friends of Fred Smith Conservation Committee maintains an archive of photographic documentation and records documenting preservation activities since 1977. A site database created in 2001 contains records for each component, accommodating information in 48 fields. All detached fragments are inventoried and stored and detached embellishment materials are collected and organized.

2009 Conservation Plan

The goal of annual conservation projects is to preserve the site as closely as possible to its original condition, as created by and in the spirit of Fred Smith, and to integrate it within the extensive changes that have occurred to the site since its creation. No small task! Long-range conservation plans include a major project to restore the #62 Iwo Jima Plaque, the continued stabilization of figures and animals as needed, the repainting of elements throughout the site, and extensive site cleaning.  Other activities include the organization of archival documents and the development of a site catalogue.

In 2009 work will include finishing any unfinished areas of surface infill. The front face will be repainted, guided by vintage photos. The mural on the verso face will be recreated. A
plaque will be installed nearby, with information and images narrating the history of the sculpture, and indicating that the painted surfaces are not Smith’s original work. Vintage photo documentation revealed that Smith had created a small grassy hill in front of the mural face of the plaque, so it appears that the figure is walking from the mural into the landscape, from the painting into three dimensional reality. This is an artistically and conceptually brilliant strategy, in which Smith was possibly anticipating his evolution from two dimensional and bas relief plaques, into three dimensional sculpture. Smith may also have intended this hill as a mirror image, reflecting or referencing the hill of Mount Suribachi, featured on the other side of the plaque. A hill will be created to replicate Smith’s original composition; it will not rest against the plaque but will be supported by a thin masonry wall. The pair of Indian Entrance Posts were originally built near the Iwo Jima plaque, flanking the entrance to the Rock Garden Tavern driveway. They were relocated to the east meadow (with the other works from the tavern property), and were reinstalled with the portraits facing away, rather than toward each other, as in Smith’s original composition. The Posts will be moved to the grassy area on the former footprint of Smith’s barn, approximating their original relationship to the Iwo Jima plaque, and the original distance between them. Thus, the Posts and the conserved Iwo Jima plaque will more closely resemble their original setting. An interpretive plaque will be created to provide information and images narrating the history of the sculpture and indicating the changes to the piece over time, noting features that are not Smith’s original work. The granite bench in front of the Friends of Fred Smith Veterans Monument (a granite monument with bronze plaques of the American military branches of service, a flag and flagpole, and bench, created in 2002), will be removed. The area around the plaque will be graded and landscaped to unify the plaque with the Indian Entrance Posts and the Friends of Fred Smith Veterans Monument.

2008 Conservation Project

The focus was on the Iwo Jima plaque. Conservation of Smith’s commanding, double-sided plaque, Marines Raise Old Glory on Iwo Jima, is the major conservation project of 2008 and 2009. This plaque, one of Smith’s earlier works, features a bas-relief embellished and painted concrete image based on the legendary photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, of the Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. On the opposite side Smith contrasted the public and patriotic nature of the flag-raising with an original, personal composition of a man walking down a path, through a stylized gate flanked by windows and torch-forms, resembling the Gates of Heaven memorial motif seen on many grave markers. Because it was structurally stable, an extensive conservation project was not undertaken until this time, since many other sculptures required stabilization. The Friends of Fred Smith conservation crew reached a point where no figures or animals require immediate attention, so it was finally possible to focus attention on this major project.

Fred Smith’s Rock Garden Tavern was sold to a private owner in 1976, and around that time the Wisconsin Concrete Park was acquired by Kohler Foundation, to be conserved and gifted to Price County. In the spring of 1977, seven sculptures and tableaux, built by Smith on the tavern property, were moved to the Wisconsin Concrete Park property. The tavern owner at the time had served in World War II and was at Iwo Jima. He wanted the Iwo Jima plaque to remain next to the tavern for as long as he owned it. The Iwo Jima Plaque suffered extensive damage in the downburst of July, 1977. It was smashed and broken into many pieces. The plaque was completely restored in its original location. It was repainted and the composition on the north side was recreated.

In 1981 the plaque was relocated to the Wisconsin Concrete Park, situated at the north east corner of the parking lot, near the former site of Smith’s barn (destroyed in the 1977 storm). Shortly after, it was relocated, the plaque fell or was knocked down and broke into many pieces. It was repaired and re-erected at that location. The repair was not done professionally. As repaired, the plaque had poor restoration of original pieces and very uneven surfaces, and many areas received poor infill with a variety of epoxies and mortars. The verso side was completely covered with a layer of strong mortar, covering Smith’s mural.

Fortunately FOFS Archive includes excellent vintage photo documentation of the sculpture. Scaffolding was erected on the front and back. The front (Iwo Jima face) lip of the non-original, heavy channel iron frame the sculpture was removed. Even with the steel frame the sculpture had a serious degree of sway, threatening it structurally. Two braces of steel angle iron were attached to the mural/verso side, angling down to steel posts in concrete footings.

The mortar cap on the mural face was removed by hand chiseling and mechanically, using a grinder fitted with a diamond blade, revealing the uneven face of the mural, many areas of
infill, and the ghost of the 1978 repainted mural. Extensive areas of different types of epoxies and mortar/epoxy mixes were removed from both sides, using hand chiseling and
grinder fitted with a diamond blade. Large voids were prepared for mortar with stainless steel pins and mesh. Voids were filled with mortar, closely matching the texture of Smith’s original surface.

The sculptures all have varying degrees of organic growth (moss and lichens), which doesn't detract from them visually, but eventually weakens the concrete and accelerates deterioration. With consultation from the ProSoCo company we developed a program of cleaning sculptures of organic growth and other surface dirt. We began this program in 2007, treating all sculptures in the east meadow and south of the driveway. This summer we treated all sculptures (124) in the main area north of the driveway. This process is essential in the preservation of the sculpture surfaces. We’re following this treatment by coating the sculptures with a sealant, which will allow the concrete to breathe, but will protect against moisture penetration. We will observe how effective the sealant protects the sculptures from further organic growth and we anticipate that we’ll need to repeat this method every ten years.

2006 - 2007 Conservation Project

Conservation in 2007 was a continuation of the work we did in 2006. The main project in '06 was the Budweiser Team. In 2007 we continued to clean another section of the park. In '06 we cleaned the back, or east section of the park. In '07 we moved to the South section of the park that would be all sculptures south of the driveway entrance. Everyone in this past summer’s crew did cleaning. These masonry cleaners are used in the world of Historic Preservation. We also began a series of tests on a masonry sealer, produced by the same company.

Every year we are at the park, we find new damaged areas. These could be from material deterioration, as well as snow/wind damage. #6 Chiann was moved to a dangerous angle, and the J Pegs show the new footing process. This is done every year, somewhere in the park. #18 west woman [note jpeg shows#19], is similar, the footing is shallow and needs to be rebuilt. #18 also has deteriorated leg posts. These pipe were also rebuilt and filled.


The #3 sculpture was worked on this past summer. The feet as well as the heads were removed and rebuilt, glass was attached, and the painted surfaces were cleaned and repainted.


Images from #51 and #55 show glass collection and attachment this is done in conjunction with the cleaning. The day after the piece has been clean all glass at the base is reinstalled to the piece.

#57 image series shows cleaning, another leg pipe stabilization, and reinstalling the original back pieces.

The image Ashley Rust Reform, has Ashley applying a rust inhibitor on all exposed metal used in the sculptures

The image Ray Painting shows again the ongoing yearly maintenance necessary at the park.

Finally the Horn Images show work done in my studio on horns that I removed in fall. The horns over time deteriorate, and need to be rebuilt. Use of the original horn is always the historical correct way.

2005 Conservation Project

The 2005 Conservation Project—preceded by numerous minor projects throughout the summer—began in earnest in August 2005 as the preservation crew began work on the major stabilization of two of Smith’s figures: #17 Kit Carson and #57 Lincoln-Todd Monument.

#17 Kit Carson: The sculpture was ingeniously engineered by Smith to balance on the horse’s rearing legs with the support of a single rod attaching the horse torso to the footing. Over the years the footing settled unevenly, threatening to topple the structure. The wet and rotting wood armature was removed, and the footing was excavated and replaced with a reinforced footing. The single support rod was replaced with a two-pronged support rod system. Surface consolidation was done to horse and rider.

#57 Lincoln-Todd Monument: Smith’s Lincoln-Todd Monument, elevated on a stone and mortar pedestal, was built around a rubble interior and had settled considerably, causing damage to the entire tableau. An area around the pedestal was excavated, and the interior was reinforced. The tableau was righted to its original position, and all panels of the pedestal were realigned and mortared into place.

2004 Conservation Project

The 2004 Conservation Project—generously funded by Kohler Foundation, Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, the AnnMarie Foundation, Inc., and many others—focused on three major structural stabilization projects: #15 Paul Bunyan, #52 Lion and Tiger, and #13, Indian and Woman.

#15 Paul Bunyan: Boroscope and other testing conducted by the Construction Technologies Laboratory in 1999 revealed serious deterioration in the legs; the left arm was detached and in many pieces. Stainless steel armatures were created for the arm and torso, and the arm was repaired and reinstalled. It was also discovered that Smith used 1 ¼ inch well pipe, driven deep into the ground and rising up into the torso, to create the leg armatures.

#52 Lion and Tiger: The Tiger had a badly deteriorating torso armature, and both had detached appendages, resulting in significant loss of visual integrity. The bottom of the Tiger torso was carefully removed revealing a stovepipe armature inside in good condition. The torso sections were repaired, strengthened, and reinstalled. Broken tails were repaired and reinstalled, with recreated section; three ears were recreated and reinstalled; and the Lion’s wire moustache was recreated.

#13 Indian and Woman: The female figure footing was listing dangerously, and the shaking hands had been out of alignment since 1978. Inspection revealed that the steel leg pipes at the ankles were seriously corroded causing major loss of stability. A scaffold was erected around the figure, which was lifted about two feet so a sufficient footing could be created and original alignment restored. Corroded portions of the leg pipes were removed, and a system of stainless steel pipe was inserted into existing leg pipes. Ankles were remortared. The head was removed, rotting wood taken out, a stainless steel armature installed, and the head was remortared into place.



Copyright © 2006 Friends of Fred Smith