If you tack an extra half hour onto your next drive from the Twin Cities to Duluth, you can check out some of the best outdoor sculpture art in America. Franconia Sculpture Park was founded in 1996 in Shafer, a wee pioneer town (population: 1,074) about 10 minutes from the push-off point of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. It’s free to enter, but don’t rush your visit: At 43 acres, the park deserves a good two to three hours of your time. It’s an escape, after all—as deeply connected to the arts as it is to nature.
When we last visited, there were more than 120 works on display. Some sculptures stood out like sore thumbs against the wind-blown landscape; others integrated so seamlessly, they practically disappeared. Highlights from our self-guided tour included a haunting suspended house (Melanie Van Houten’s Reclamation), a sun-dappled hall of mirrors (Dream the Combine’s Clearing), and a stack of reclaimed skiffs (Pete Driessen’s Franconia Boat Tower).
What exactly you’ll see when you go is a big question mark. Franconia’s myriad fellowships and lack of a coherent theme mean its vision is constantly changing—a field of wonder that’s both familiar and foreign. Who’s up for a walk?
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St. Croix Trail N., Shafer, MN; 651-257-6668.