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

Cheech Marin On Art, Comedy, And American Identity

In The Moment ... November 13, 2017 Show 218 Hour 1 Cheech Marin is known as an actor, director, author, and...

In The Moment ... Artists Respond To The Reformation

In The Moment ... October 31, 2017 Show 210 Hour 1 What does it mean to drastically change in order to improve...

In The Moment ... The Art Of J. Steven Manolis

In The Moment ... October 5, 2017 Show 192 Hour 2 The "Painting Vermillion Red" art exhibit features the work of USD...

In The Moment ... The Hob Menace With Angela Swedberg

In The Moment ... September 18, 2017 Show 179 Hour 2 When you visit a museum you expect authenticity from the exhibitions, art, and artifacts. Angela Swedberg is a...

Books

Love, Language, And Belonging With Lauren Collins

In The Moment ... November 16, 2017 Show 222 Hour 1 What does it mean to love someone in a language that’s not your...

In The Moment ...Poetry With Sun Yung Shin

신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin is the editor of the best-selling anthology "A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota" and...

In The Moment ... Author Larry Campbell Rolls Through Vermillion

In The Moment ... October 17, 2017 Show 200 Hour 1 He followed the Missouri River for more than 2,000 miles. He...

In The Moment ... Victoria Sweet’s “Slow Medicine: The Way To Healing”

In The Moment ... October 17, 2017 Show 200 Hour 2 Protocols ignore patients, doctors provide healthcare rather than...

Music

The Stockholm Pianos

In The Moment ... November 20, 2017 Show 224 Hour 2 It's a South Dakota town where pianos outnumber people, and it's...

South Dakota Symphony Orchestra: Delta David Gier And Christopher Hill

In The Moment ... November 17, 2017 Show 223 Hour 1 The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra plays this weekend in the...

Moment In Sound With Wanbli Ceya

In The Moment ... November 17, 2017 Show 223 Hour 1 For this week's Moment in Sound, we welcome Wanbli Ceya. He's an...

Brendan Gayken And The Band Lemmons

In The Moment ... November 9, 2017 Show 217 Hour 2 Musician Brendan Gayken joins SDPB's Steve Zwemke to talk about...

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...