Located on the southern edge of Phillips, Wisconsin in Price Country lies one of the most unusual county parks you may ever encounter. The Wisconsin Concrete Park exhibits the work of Fred Smith, a folk artist that whose medium was concrete, broken beer bottles, and other pieces of found objects.
Fred Smith, born in 1886 to German immigrants in Price county, homesteaded outside of Phillips in 1903 where he built his house, barn, and a tavern. Smith worked in the lumber camps until 1948 until arthritis forced him to quit. But that didn’t stop his physical activity. Lacking any formal training, he started to construct life size figures, animals, and objects out of concrete covered wood forms and decorated them with broken glass bottles, reflectors, and other pieces of found objects. His nearby tavern, the Rock Garden, was a constant source of Rhinelander Beer bottles for his artwork.
Smith’s collection of over 200 pieces exhibit the figurative detail and nature of ‘folk’ or ‘primitive’ art. While maybe primitive in appearance, the collective works illustrate the history and culture of Northern Wisconsin. You will find a giant muskie being pulled by a wagon train, a man drinking beer while another snaps a picture of a deer, people dancing, Native Americans, and tributes to our nation’s veterans.
When Fred Smith passed away in 1976, the park was purchased by the Kohler Foundation to protect his legacy. The foundation set forth a restoration plan and deeded the park to Price County in 1977. Wind storms in 1977 and 1986 damaged several of the pieces, but also gave preservationists a chance to do a more thorough job at restoring and protecting the pieces. Although chunks of glass are missing and paint is fading on many of the pieces, they are being restored and preserved for future generations.
The Friends of Fred Smith is a 501(c)3 charitable organization set up to maintain, protect, and preserve the Concrete Park. The park is free for visitors to explore, but donations are greatly appreciated.
The Concrete Park is open to the public during daylight hours and is located at N8236 South Hwy 13, Phillips, WI 54555. Restrooms and picnic tables are available. A gift shop filled with arts and crafts by local artists is located inside the Smith house.