I was driving down the highway in South Dakota when I saw the head of a giant bull emerge across the big sky of the Plains. It was an enormous sculpture, the size of the heads on Mt. Rushmore, so of course I had to take the exit and check it out. It turned out to be one of many distinct works of art at Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose.
The “park” is a field on the side of the highway, littered with metal sculptures arranged in a sort of self-guided tour trail across mowed grass. The owner and artist, Wayne Porter, accepted a small admission fee in the barn he was using as an office on the site, and then I walked off into the world he created, a world of fantasy and fun, of horror and suffering, of wonder and worry. The whole park was a kaleidoscope of this man’s mental struggles, with Gnostic themes frequently appearing: the tenuousness of reality, the deception of false appearances, the need to escape to a world more real and less constricting than this one.
Among the many works of metal art sculpture, this is my favorite. Not only do these bits of metal give the sinuous, free-floating impression of fish really swimming in water, but the story is thoughtful. The title is “Cracked Goldfish Bowl.” The sign reads:
Said the one to the other, “Let’s find a way out. . .explore.”
Said the other, “We are goldfish. We live in a bowl.”
“Yes,” said the one, “but there must be a crack, a door, a soul.”
They never found the one, or his soul, but he swam far.
This horrible little thing titled “Wise Man” has an existentialist message:
Like the three wise monkeys, he hears no evil, speaks no evil, and sees no evil. In order to be wise one first must be mangled.
When I reached the giant bull head, I remembered Wayne had told me that bats roost in the bull sculpture, so visitors should be careful not to make too much noise there. I noted with some amusement when using my zoom lens that the “bat” hanging in the bull’s ear was actually another tiny sculpture, not a real bat at all. Reality and illusion. Was the artist just having a joke on his visitors? Or was he manufacturing reverence at the centerpiece of his sculpture park by requiring silence there? (The bull sculpture is hollow and the inside has a little sanctuary with a crucified figure surrounded by winged snakes, bats, and cobras. A portrait of the artist, I suppose, trapped by terrorizing visions inside his own mind). The giant work of art took 3 years to build, and is made entirely of railroad ties. (I was delighted to see my theme on Americans and the travel urge re-appearing: bull made of railroad ties on the side of an interstate).
Another favorite of mine, titled “Dream Afraid to be Ridden.”
The sign reads,
The horse is looking back in fear, but cannot run. It can only rock. It can only be free once it is ridden.
Towards the end of the tour, this beauty stands, titled “Pain and Joy.”
The sign reads,
Pain and Joy can co-exist, but neither stays forever. Butterflies fly away and thorns are pulled.
An ancient philosophy, that “This too, shall pass.”
When I left the park, Wayne asked me to sign his guestbook. I drew a little picture, and under it I wrote:
We are all greater artists than we realize – Nietzsche