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

In The Moment ... Remembering The Cold War In South Dakota

In The Moment ... June 19, 2017 Show 117 Hour 2 We look back now at the Cold War, when notions of a nuclear attack...

In The Moment ... Warrior Culture And 200 Years Of Fort Pierre

In The Moment ... June 13, 2017 Show 113 Hour 2 The current issue of “South Dakota Magazine” highlights South Dakota'...

In The Moment ... Meet The Street Poet

In The Moment ... June 5, 2017 Show 107 Hour 2 Vernon Patterson writes poetry about personal growth, his experiences...

In The Moment ... Benjamin Jones And “Eisenhower’s Guerillas”

In The Moment ... June 1, 2017 Show 105 Hour 2 Ben Jones is Dean of Arts and Sciences at Dakota State University. He'...

Books

In The Moment ... Adoption In South Dakota

In The Moment ... July 20, 2017 Show 138 Hour 1 Today we talk adoption in the state, going beyond the politics of...

In The Moment ... Summer Reading With Peggy Stout

In The Moment ... June 29, 2017 Show 125 Hour 1 It's time to pack your beach bag with books and get ready for a...

In The Moment ... Children’s Literature In The Age Of Trump

In The Moment ... May 19, 2017 Show 097 Hour 1 We could all use a laugh right now, especially children. So says...

In The Moment ... Dental Forensics And The Deadwood Pioneer

In The Moment ... May 16, 2017 Show 094 Hour 2 "Deadwood Pioneer: A Face from the Past" is a new documentary from...

Music

In The Moment ... Yoga Culture In South Dakota

In The Moment ... July 24, 2017 Show 140 Hour 2 South Dakota yoga lovers Gather, Embrace, and Expand this weekend at...

Personalities: From Huron High to Broadway

Singer, actor, and teacher Joseph Mahowald graduated from Huron High School in 1977. He went on to study music and...

In The Moment ... Moment In Sound With Bo DePena

In The Moment ... July 21, 2017 Show 139 Hour 1 SDPB’s Steve Zwemke talks with musician Bo DePena. His latest EP is...

In The Moment ... Moment In Sound With Matthew Curry

In The Moment ... July 14, 2017 Show 134 Hour 1 Matthew Curry plays JazzFest tonight in Sioux Falls. You can see him...

Theater

In The Moment ... Alex Meyer's Scenic Design

In The Moment ... May 10, 2017 Show 090 Hour 2 Alex Meyer. He's a junior art and theater major at Augustana College...

In The Moment ... Remembering Vietnam On Horseback

In The Moment ... May 9, 2017 Show 089 Hour 2 Colt Romberger’s father served in Vietnam, and it changed his life...

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...