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Internationally known artists attending three-week symposium, building sculpture park in Lincoln

Internationally known artists attending three-week symposium, building sculpture park in Lincoln

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LINCOLN – Something big is happening in this little town, but it takes time to absorb the scope of it.

“It’s hard to compete with the landscape here, so large helps,” Rick Dunkerley said with a chuckle Tuesday.

A local knifemaker with a national reputation, Dunkerley is project director and chief on-the-ground push for a three-week international sculpture symposium and the sculpture park that will result.

Four internationally known sculptors from Europe and another from the Upper Hudson Valley of New York have each chosen a spot in a 26-acre wood east of town. Most of them started work on their large-scale pieces on Monday with help from Dunkerley and a growing host of volunteers on what’s being called Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture In the Wild.

When they’re finished and the park is officially launched Saturday, Oct. 4, Lincoln will have one of the United States’ leading large-scale sculpture parks with works that, as the New York artist Steven Siegel said, “will look like something that you can’t put into words.”

Towering over it all will be an 80-foot tepee burner, unused since 1970, from the old Delaney lumber mill seven miles up the road. It has Kevin O’Dwyer of Ireland, one of the sculptors and the park’s artistic director, hopping with excitement.

“That’s my baby,” O’Dwyer said. “In my work I’m interested in the industrial aspect, first of all with mining, because the Irish connection with mining here is big. But when I got a chance to see this tepee burner, I just fell in love with it.”

It’s been a challenge to get possession and gain approval to assemble the giant scrap wood burner on state land at the park. It and hundreds of others were shut down by the U.S. government due to environmental concerns in the 1970s. The Delaney burner measures 45 feet in diameter at its base and will have to be moved to the sculpture park in pieces.

Siegel was overseeing a small group of volunteers from Lincoln, the Wilderness Society and the University of Great Falls who were nailing stacks of local newspapers to the ground.

They were on the first layer of what in the next couple of weeks will grow to be a high paper wall – how high depends on how many workers show up and how many newspapers come in, Siegel said. It will slalom around a series of upright pine tree trunks over an area of 30-35 feet. It’s Siegel’s commentary on the cycle of paper production from trees and what becomes of the paper afterward.

“When people talk about recycling – everything’s recycled,” Siegel said as he kept a close eye on the early installation stage. “I’m going to be recycled, you’re going to be recycled, this paper’s going to be recycled, that mountain’s going to be recycled. It all goes through changes, it’s just a question of what your timeline is.

“So it’s sort of a momentary interruption in the human solid waste stream, and we make art out of it. It doesn’t get in anybody’s way and eventually it disappears and then they make something else here.”

Siegel’s fellow sculptors in the woods are Jaakko Pernu of Oulu, Finland; Jorn Ronnau of Aarus, Denmark; and Irishmen Alan Counihan of County Kilkenny and O’Dwyer of County Offaly.


The 56-year-old Pernu, who’s creating his first installation in the United States, was on his way to constructing a giant picture frame Tuesday. Carpenters Jim Heisler of Lincoln and Steve Woodhouse of Bigfork helped put the finishing touches on the frame itself. Upright, it’ll stand more than 20 feet high, which Pernu will interweave with thousands of tree boughs to create a mosaic in the ever-changing forest light.

Ronnau, who’s been creating large-scale environmental sculptures in public spaces for more than 30 years, is a chainsaw artist who works primarily in trees. He arrived in the woods in late morning Tuesday after giving the first in a series of artist presentations to a Lincoln School assembly.

The common theme in all the pieces will be a celebration of the Lincoln area’s logging, mining and ranching heritage, integrated with a dramatic landscape. Lincoln is struggling with the recent losses of two main businesses. Highway 200 borders the sculpture park, and Dunkerley sees the park as a way to help put the town back in the flush.

The affable O’Dwyer lined up the other sculptors and used his expertise with other symposia and sculpture parks in Europe, including the award-winning Sculpture in the Parklands in Ireland, to handle the logistics of this one.

O’Dwyer and Dunkerley met and became friends several years ago in Seattle at a knifemaking workshop Dunkerley was teaching at the Pratt Fine Arts Center. When O’Dwyer shared his experiences with sculpture parks, he fired Dunkerley’s imagination to put one in Lincoln.

More than a year ago, they began broaching the far-fetched idea to Paul Roos and a number of others in Lincoln and Ovando. Avid support has rolled in from the likes of Gov. Steve and Lisa Bullock, and Caleb Fey, executive director of the Holter Museum of Art in Helena.

Jeff Dawson is supplying all the metal fabricating work in his shop just down the road. Stream Works Construction donated construction of a service road and turnaround through the park site.

Germaine White, information and education specialist with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Natural Resources Department, will be on hand at the symposium next week. Blackfeet Indian balladeer Jack Gladstone is scheduled to supply a musical touch at the Oct. 4 launch.

And John Grande of Canada, who writes for the International Sculpture Center’s Sculpture Magazine, will be the writer-in-residence in the final week.


O’Dwyer arrived in Lincoln on Sept. 4 to help Dunkerley and his army of volunteers set the table. The park, rough-hewn as it is so far, is open to visitors daily and will soon be hosting waves of some 300 students from the Blackfoot Valley to come and see what’s going on. O’Brien’s daughter, Sinead, will come from Ireland to coordinate the education program.

O’Dwyer decided to install his own piece, “Montana Lind Drawing,” before the symposium begins. It’s a steel structure that stands 22 feet high with hollow angular crosspieces. The piece was inspired by the jackleg fences that O’Dwyer saw when he first visited Montana to work with Dunkerley in his knifemaking studio.

“I noticed,” O’Dwyer said, “that when the light was hitting it a certain way it was doing all these criss-cross reflections on the ground, so I just took one of the elements and I built up and flipped it vertical because it was going into a forest area.”

He wanted hollow crosspieces, he added, in hopes that squirrels or birds might nest inside.

The finished Sculpture in the Wild Park, along with the symposium, will carry a price tag of more than $100,000, some of which hasn’t been raised yet.

O’Dwyer is maintaining the Sculpture in the Wild website and updating its Facebook page nightly with photos and videos for those who want to follow the progress. Donations can be made at the Sculpture in the Wild’s site or mailed in care of Sculpture in the Wild to Blackfoot Pathways Sculpture in the Wild, P.O. Box 601, Lincoln, MT 59639.

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at

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Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian

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