Back when West Bend Friends of Sculpture (WBFS) started three decades ago, its goal was to add one, maybe two, pieces of three-dimensional art each year in our community.
The concept of the group was to create a non-profit corporation that added frosting to the cake in an already lovely town. Flash forward 30 years, and the persistence and dedication of the group has resulted in the placement of 49 major sculptures throughout the community.
Most sculpture expositions use a concentrated park for their three-D works, such as the Millesgården in Stockholm, the Vigeland sculpture park in downtown Oslo, Norway and the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There are many other sculpture parks around the country, and they all are a tremendous amenity in their part of the world.
West Bend Friends of Sculpture has had a different idea. It aimed to promote 3-D art throughout the whole community, and that is what has happened. In partnership with the City of West Bend, multiple pieces have been installed in the city’s fabulous parks and in locations along the Milwaukee River. Twenty-three are in the downtown area, and they have become contributors to the emerging cultural district in the heart of our city. They complement the Museum of Wisconsin Art and The Bend Theater for a delightful mix of different parts of the art world.
It’s not like any one piece changes the artistic nature of our community, but the collection of those pieces is certainly a signature for our town. Michelle Nast, WBFS president, put it well when she said, “Public art is the most inclusive artform because it’s available to everyone, and it’s free. Our collection adds to the community’s quality of life and to its economic vitality.”
Quality of life is a big deal for businesses in the area. When recruiting talent, the candidates for local jobs care mainly about two things: the quality and stability of our schools and the community’s quality of life. West Bend scores highly on both counts, making recruiting easier than for less attractive communities.
The sculpture group is making the artworks more appreciated by adding QR codes at each site. Visitors with smart phones can link to the WBFS website (https://westbendsculpture.org) and learn about the piece they are facing.
The six pieces being added this year are each wonderful in their own way. Check them out:
- Swimming Girl by Dean Meeker at the Regner Park Beach House.
- Full Circle by Rusty Wolfe, to be installed at the north end of downtown Main Street. (Pictured above)
- Highland Breeze by William Eisner, to be installed at the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation headquarters, the former Pick Property
- Atomic by Robert Anderson at Lac Lawrann’s Maurin Center.
- Double Dancer by Lyman Whitaker at Lac Lawrann’s Maurin Center.
- Zulu Warrior by Paul Bobrowitz, to be added on the Riverwalk behind Mountain Outfitters.
The city’s most spectacular piece installed in 2022 was “The Bird” right on the Riverwalk opposite The Bend Theater. Nast led the charge to pull off that installation. It’s stainless-steel breast has been popular for photo ops.
The WBFS board of directors is already working on a big project for 2024. The top of Barton Hill has screamed out for a beautiful piece for years. Board members are taking proposals as we speak. No decisions have been yet for that site, but a major donor has already stepped forward to help make it happen. More donors are welcome.
Many people have donated to make our sculpture collection happen. And the City has been an enthusiastic partner when public property is involved. A good number of corporations have also stepped up, especially West Bend Mutual, which has a private, corporate collection of nine outdoor pieces on its campus.
Where will the West Bend collection be in another 30 years? Who knows? But who cannot agree that West Bend is a “City of Sculptures.”