“What the heck is that?” It’s a phrase that must get uttered hundreds of times a day by out-of-town motorists in the Montrose, South Dakota, area when approaching the Porter Sculpture Park.
The park sits right off Interstate 90. Its large sculptures rise out of the plains and beckon tourists to veer off the interstate and check out whatever the heck that was they just whizzed past.
Trust me, it well merits getting off the highway to look. And if you are an RVer and Harvest Hosts member, I suggest scheduling an overnight stop at this most unusual attraction.
Of all the stops I have made on my Long, long RV trip, the Porter Sculpture Park has been my favorite. Hence, I decided to give it its own separate article, as I don’t want anyone going through South Dakota to miss it.
Part whimsical, part dark, mostly brilliant, and 100% intriguing, the park was entirely created by an equally intriguing artist, Wayne Porter.
In the winter Porter goes back to his studio, a few hours away, to create more sculptures. But in the summers and fall he lives at the park with his charming blind albino dog, Bambino, a snow white husky mix.
With his hearing even keener than most dogs, Bambino would alert us to approaching cars long before we humans could see or hear them. He reminded me of the stunning dog director Emir Kusturica used to transition scenes in the surreal comedy movie “Arizona Dream.” And as the Porter Sculpture Park is a rather surreal setting, that seemed only apropos.
(SIDE NOTE: If you never heard of this semi-obscure movie and are a fan of the odd and surreal, check it out. It stars Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Lili Taylor, Vincent Gallo, and Faye Dunaway. If the casting alone doesn’t pique your interest, it’s probably not your kind of movie anyway.)
When I tell Wayne Porter that I am always impressed with people like him who follow their passions, he sheepishly admits that his art is not so much a passion as it is an obsession.
Difficult as it is to believe, Wayne has never had any formal art training. He grew up working in his father’s blacksmith shop. As a young man, he took those welding skills and used them to spontaneously start creating metal art.
His first-ever large sculpture, a red dragon that lived outside the blacksmith shop for years, now calls the sculpture park home, along with over 50 other larger-than-life sculptures.
The creations come to life from Wayne’s brain almost intuitively. By his own admission, he is terrible at both math and drawing. He likewise makes all his sculptures, some several stories high, without relying on any diagrams or equations.
Interspersed between sculptures, you’ll find signs with Wayne’s poetry, thoughts, and explanations.
Some of the art is fun and lighthearted, like the row of buzzards representing politicians. Other pieces are dark, moody, and spooky. Wayne definitely displays an eclectic range of topics and styles in his metal art.
His favorite piece, his masterpiece that took more than three years to build, is the ENORMOUS bull. As large as the heads on Mt Rushmore, it’s impossible to miss this massive sculpture even from the distance of the highway. Up close it is even more impressive, both inside and out.
Four larger-than-life skeleton warriors keep watch on the bull from all four corners. Inside you’ll find metal cobra sculptures (a nod to Indiana Jones). For good measure, Wayne also put a sculpture of the Creature from the Black Lagoon inside.
The bull may be Wayne’s favorite, but the equally large metal horse towering over the park is just as awe-inspiring. And the smaller (but still large) sculptures scattered around these two behemoths are no less interesting or thought-provoking.
If you do spend the night, be sure to take a flashlight tour after dark for a magical and extra-surreal experience.
Myself, another Harvest Hosts RVing couple, and Wayne shared some wine and talked for hours into the evening.
A gentle man, Wayne became a vegetarian after running a sheep farm and realizing how much the animals have feelings. He has even reinforced the prairie dog tunnels around his property to protect the animals and keep the tunnels from collapsing.
We all shared how much we enjoyed the experience, and found Wayne a delightful host and conversationalist.
He admitted most people seem to enjoy the park, but not everyone. One woman left a Harvest Hosts review saying it freaked her out and that he reminded her of a serial killer.
I guess if you are a paranoid type, the odd and unusual attraction and its eccentric creative genius artist could potentially start your imagination running wild. But I found both the place and its creator delightfully quirky, without any hint of a dangerous or uncomfortable vibe.
This attraction is like no other. Don’t miss it!
Porter Sculpture Park practicalities
- The park covers 10 acres with more than 50 sculptures.
- Golf carts are available for those who can’t or prefer not to walk.
- The park is dog friendly.
- Porter Sculpture Park is open 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., 7 days a week, May 15 through October 15th.
- Take exit 374 from I-90. If you are coming from the west, take a left off the ramp onto 451st Ave. and then take the first left by the Porter Sculpture Park sign onto a gravel road that takes you to the Park. If coming from the East, take a right at the ramp and then the first left onto the gravel road. 45160 257th Street, Montrose, SD 57048.
- Admission is $10 for adults, $5 ages 13-17, ages 12 and under free.
- Porter Sculpture Park website.