Landmarks: Ken Bell's Conversation Pieces on US HWY 212

Posted by Michael Zimny on

Driving west on US HWY 212 just past Clark, where the Northeastern South Dakota wetlands begin to give way to drier expanses of grassland, look North and you’ll see a matching fleet of orange ’76 Ford LTDs, parked in two tidy rows, like they’re waiting for a light to change.

clarksculpturepark22.JPG

You’re catching a driveby glimpse of Ken Bell’s Conversation Pieces, one of those abstract interjections you’ll discover any time you make tracks across the Northern Plains. The Parade, as Bell calls the LTD procession, is where it all started.

There are conflicting origin stories, but they tend to agree that the first car was parked on the prairie out of more utilitarian than artistic motives — Bell owned a body shop in town at the time. However it ended up there, that first Ford would spark something bigger than itself, something that still continues to evolve.

Like Conversation Pieces as a whole, The Parade, "is a work in progress," says Bell. He still adds another LTD to the line when he can, though “they’re getting a bit hard to find.”

The ongoing project will continue to grow says Bell. “We’ll come up with some other stuff this summer, to give people something to talk about.”

Asked what people in Clark think about it, Bell says, “I don’t know. I’ve never really asked them. Some people probably think it’s goofy, but we all have different ways to think about things.”

clarksculpturepark4.JPG

Past The Parade, a pit of twisted storm drain pipes appears to writhe.

clarksculpturepark15.JPG

In the distance, a hulking sculpture made of industrial oil storage tanks looms — a popular, if untypical perch for passing birds.

clarksculpturepark23.JPG

Nine wooden poles thrust skyward at an angle.

clarksculpturepark16.JPG  

A small tower grows one wagon wheel at a time.

Other pieces are harder to make out, or may just be features of the landscape, like a pile of concrete that seems to have been piled with some intent, but maybe that’s just what happens to man-made materials in the context of Conversation Pieces. It’s a place along the highway on the Plains where human detritus has life. In a landscape strewn with weather-worn reminders of the past, the Conversation Piece plods slowly forward even as it fades.

subscribe to sdpb email updates food blog link image learning blog link image living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

Related content from SDPB Radio - Art

Middle Schoolers Get Rock Orchestra Lesson

Sioux Falls middle schoolers are playing music with a world-renowned rock orchestra violinist. Mark Wood is in town...

Spitting Words At LNI’s Fourth Annual Poetry Slam

The Lakota Nation Invitational is not just for athletes, but aesthetes as well. An aesthete, if you are wondering...

Dakota Midday: Horse Nation Of The Oceti Sakowin

The Horse Nation of the Ochethi Sakowin honors culture, spirituality and relationship. It's a traveling exhibition...

2017 Governor’s Awards In The Arts Winners

Every two years, Arts South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council honor artists and organizations across the...

Books

"Paul Goble, Storyteller"

Artist Paul Goble passed away on January 5, 2017. Biographer Greg Bryan worked with Goble for more than four years...

Michael Dirda: A Life In Books And The Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Michael Dirda takes a look back at a career as a professional reader. From...

Dakota Midday: J. Ryan Stradal

J. Ryan Stradal is the author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. A Minnesota native, Stradal lives in Los Angeles...

Dakota Midday: Paul Andrew Hutton

Paul Andrew Hutton joined Dakota Midday from the SD Festival of Books in Brookings. Hutton is a distinguished...

Music

Middle Schoolers Get Rock Orchestra Lesson

Sioux Falls middle schoolers are playing music with a world-renowned rock orchestra violinist. Mark Wood is in town...

Dakota Midday: Owen DeJong Day

It's Owen DeJong Day in South Dakota. The Morning Classics host was showered with adoration this morning during a...

Dakota Midday: Bob Everhart Tours With Rural Music

Live phone interview with Smithsonian-Folkways recording artist Bob Everhart. He’ll discuss the preservation of...

Glenn Miller Music Still Puts Folks "In The Mood"

Glenn Miller and his big band were at the height of their fame when World War Two began. Two years after...

Theater

Dakota Midday: S.F. Washington's "Wizard Of Oz"

South Dakota high schools produce a variety of plays each year. This week the Washington High School drama...

Dakota Midday: Lisa McNulty On Female Artists

The Off-Broadway Women's Project Theater is the oldest and largest theater company that promotes women artists in...

Dakota Midday: Playwright Bill Russell's Journey to Broadway

Tony nominated Broadway lyricist and playwright Bill Russell was born in Deadwood and raised in Spearfish. His...

DWU Plans $1 Million Theater Project

After dedicating a new sports and wellness center this past month, Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell is now...