On Saturday, November 27, folks at the Franconia Sculpture Park will toast the artists, friends, and supporters who have worked hard throughout the year at their annual Franconia Pie and Wine Potluck Soiree. Once a casual gathering of friends at the park, the event has grown and was even posted on Facebook last year. So many people joined the party that they decided this year to make the get-together a fundraiser as well. People are encouraged to bring a pie, a bottle of wine, or some cider. Franconia will supply the bonfire, coffee, bratwursts, and turkey soup.
Located at 29836 St. Croix Trail near Taylors Falls, Franconia is a 20-acre park featuring a rotating exhibition of 84 sculptures. Every year about 40 new sculptures arrive at the park and 40 leave. They range from small iron sculptures, to huge substantial works, to environmental sculptures, to inflatable structures. The park is free and open to the public and is open year-round.
Sixteen years ago, founding/artistic director John Hock moved to Minnesota, originally intending to stay for just three months. Instead, he fell in love with the state. He set up a studio, and ended up staying longer than he had intended. Hock eventually left for a while, becoming involved with Socrates Sculpture Park in New York, learning about other sculpture parks around the country. When he came back to Minnesota, he said to himself, "We gotta start a sculpture park here!" Hock knew lots of local artists, and wanted to create a way for the park to be a funnel for all the sculptors in Minnesota.
Hock invested $15,000 of his own money to start the project. The first sculpture went in on June 12, 1996 and by October that year 30 had been installed by 20 local artists. By the second year, the park was receiving funding from the McKnight and the Jerome foundations. Nowadays Franconia is a $400,000 organization. "The snowball is still rolling and growing," Hock says, although it's always a bit difficult toward the end of the year. "We're still understaffed," he states, "and rely on lots of volunteer work."
Franconia is unique in the Midwest -- if not the country -- in that they offer a residency program, a workspace, and an exhibition space. Artists get fellowships through foundations such as the Minnesota State Arts board in order to pay for materials, and to pay themselves a stipend. Participants are welcome to stay in a big farmhouse at the park which contains eight bedrooms. Some artists even bring their families.
Franconia also offers a number of educational programs, including partnerships with organizations serving at-risk youth such Kulture Club and Project Offstreets. They also host a number of different family friendly activities, and in 2009 they installed an amphitheater where they host bi-monthly concerts throughout the summer.
To check out some of the activities that happened this year, you can visit their blog, which has a lot of great pictures.