The Midwest is home to many unique attractions, but its sculpture gardens may rank among the most unusual. From giant bull heads to artistic creations, visiting sculpture gardens offers the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air and blue skies while strolling among the country’s finest art.
In no particular order, here’s a look at some of my favorite sculpture gardens in the area, plus a bonus sculpture walk.
1. Porter Sculpture Park
Montrose, South Dakota
Covering more than 10 acres on a hillside pasture outside of Sioux Falls, Porter’s Sculpture Park offers a stroll among quirky artwork, some featuring humorous glances at politics. With over 50 sculptures, Wayne Porter has been sharing his art with visitors since 2000. Instead of pursuing a career as a lawyer, Porter decided to focus on his metal art, starting with a 60-foot-tall bull’s head. high that weighs about 25 tons. . It seems fitting that the bull is the sculpture garden’s most prominent artwork, since his first childhood artwork was also a bull’s head. Standing on the prairie and easily visible from Interstate 90, the bull is joined by other statues, including four goat-headed guards and red-clad figures marching toward it. Other sculptures on display include vultures, a fly playing tennis with a fly swatter as a racket, and a grown man riding a stick horse (Porter jokes that it’s his brother). Porter added a 40-foot-tall steel horse in 2018.
Pro Tip: Porter Sculpture Park, located about 30 miles west of Sioux Falls, is open seasonally from mid-May through mid-October. Wear comfortable walking shoes, as the surface is uneven and hilly. There are no paved paths.
2. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
If you like your sculpture with a cherry on top, then the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is the sundae to enjoy. Located outside the Walker Art Center near downtown Minneapolis, Spoonbridge and Cherry is the first work of art in the garden. The 11-acre park is home to more than 40 statues, such as the walking man by artist George Segal. Two major exhibits have been added to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in recent years, including Okiciyapi (Helping Each Other) – a concrete circular piece seeking to provide space for reflection between land, water, people and languages. The piece was created by artist Dakota (Sioux) Angela Two Stars. The second exhibition, inaugurated in 2021, is that of Simone Fattal adam and eve. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden also houses a botanical garden and greenhouse.
Pro Tip: With free admission, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is open year-round and features paved pathways, as well as gravel walkways.
3. Art Garden at the Wichita Museum of Art
Set among acres of trees, shrubs and plants, the art garden at the Wichita Art Museum features 13 unique pieces, ranging from a bison to a field of lights. Pulse Fields features dozens of streetlights with LED bulbs that illuminate periodically, creating a field of lights atop a berm. In a bed of plants, Wind Screen features three uniquely cut semi-circular pieces, representing the wind blowing over Kansas. Open 24 hours a day, the 8-acre park is located along the banks of the Arkansas River.
Pro Tip: Head to the Keeper of the Plains at night for the nighttime illumination of the fire at the base of the sculpture. Native American sculpture, depicting the Plains tribes, is located a short distance from the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
4. Enchanted Highway
Regent, North Dakota
In southwestern North Dakota, about 70 miles east of the North Dakota-Montana border, you’ll find giant grasshoppers, geese, pheasants, and even a family of farmers. Covering a 30-mile stretch south of Interstate 94, the Enchanted Highway is a series of sculpture gardens. With seven stops leading to the small town of Regent – birthplace of former US Senator and presidential candidate Byron Dorgan – exploring each stop is a stroll past some of the largest metal statues in the world. Beginning with a 110-foot-tall goose display, Enchanted Highway stops are just a few miles apart. A grasshopper exhibit features prairie grasshoppers of varying sizes, from knee-sized to tractor-sized. A farm family consists of larger-than-life parents and children, created from oil drums and pipes. Another exhibit features a giant stagecoach in front of a 51-foot-tall sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse.
Pro tips: Although small, Regent is a perfect place to spend a night or two while exploring the area. With accommodations like Enchanted Castle, Crocus Inn Bed and Breakfast, and Prairie Vista Bed and Breakfast, you’re sure to find a comfortable place to stay. While in town, visit the Hettinger County Historical Society Museum, which includes four historic buildings.
5. Pappajohn Sculpture Garden
Des Moines, Iowa
More than 25 modern sculptures fill a 4.4-acre park, using the Des Moines skyline as a backdrop. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park features works by 21 international artists, including Nomadic, a 27-foot tall sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The room: a human form composed of white letters. Standing inside Nomadic offers a unique view of the area, especially on a sunny day when you can see the blue sky through the letters. by Swiss sculptor Ugo Rondinone moonrise resembles the statues found on Easter Island. As you walk through the park, you’ll find horses that look like they were made from driftwood, as well as Thinker on the Rock — a Rodin spin-off The Thinker – using a large hare sitting on a rock in the famous pose. In 2018, the park added a giant pumpkin, standing nearly 8 feet tall with polka dots to look like it’s mature. Open since 2009, the park is accessible every day from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Pro Tip: For a truly unique experience, have lunch or dinner at the nearby Zombie Burger. With a post-apocalyptic decor, the restaurant exudes a Walking Dead atmosphere, only with very good burgers with names like 28 days later, They’re coming for you, Barbaraand Undead Type BBQ Burger. The restaurant also offers salads and room for a sweet ice cream.
6. Sculpture garden and cultural place in honor of the clans
Celebrating the 12 clans of the Ho Chunk Nation (Winnebago), Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza offers a glimpse into the history of the tribe. A sculpture representing each clan includes the responsibilities and roles they played in ensuring the safe functioning of tribal government, including chief security, peacetime leadership, water and land management, and the communication. Clan names include Thunder, Bear, Buffalo, Pigeon, and Eagle. Created by Ho Chunk artist Charles Aldrich, Honoring-the-Clans Sculpture Garden and Cultural Plaza is located at the northern end of town and is open year-round.
Pro Tip: Winnebago is home to the oldest powwow in North America. The Homecoming Celebration – honoring the Winnebago Scouts led by Chief Little Priest – takes place the last weekend in July.
7. City Garden
Located in downtown St. Louis, Citygarden grew out of a few blocks of open space among skyscrapers. Covering almost 3 acres, the sculpture park – described as an urban oasis – features 24 sculptures. From a sculpture resembling Pinocchio named Big white gloves, big four wheels to the bodyless Great Suit sculpture, each statue is a hands-on experience for visitors. Citygarden is a beautiful area to visit, with six rain gardens, a spray plaza (popular during the summer heat), and a 180-foot-long pool with a 6-foot waterfall. Two large walls run along the park, providing perfect spots for lunch or people-watching. The park has been popular with locals and visitors since it opened in 2009.
Pro Tip: Located just west of Gateway Arch National Park, Citygarden offers excellent views of the arch. It’s an easy walk to the national park, where you can take the tram to the top of the arch and see the area, as well as walk the land along the Mississippi River. The Old Courthouse, seat of the famous Dred Scott Supreme Court case, is part of the national park.
Bonus: City of Presidents Walking Tour
Rapid City, South Dakota
As the home of Mount Rushmore, it makes sense to honor all of America’s presidents as well as the four featured on the mountainside in the Black Hills. In 2000, residents began to recognize each president with a statue along the City of Presidents Parkway, covering a 12-block area of downtown. The sculptures feature a president in a pose significant to his history, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt standing behind a podium as he speaks. Roosevelt, who was diagnosed with poliomyelitis at age 39, used a cane and a wheelchair during the second half of his presidency. Ronald Reagan wears a cowboy hat, a regular sight on his California ranch. The statue of Calvin Coolidge depicts him waving a cowboy hat while standing next to a saddle given to him during a visit to Rapid City. A map can be downloaded, which you can use for a self-guided tour.
Pro Tip: While in Rapid City, combine the City of Presidents walking tour with a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which features a beautiful avenue displaying state flags. You can also hike in the area in front of the monument.