On a quiet county road lies this legacy of farmer, fiddler, and self-taught sculptor Herman Rusch. It began in 1952, when sixty-six-year-old Rusch rented (and later purchased) the Prairie Moon Dance Pavilion to display his collection of “natural wonders.” He had long loved and collected oddities of nature, and he filled his museum with unusual specimens of rock and wood, as well as souvenirs, antiques, photographs, tools, and other objects that held special significance for him.
The sculpture garden started as a secondary endeavor in 1957, when Rusch built a rock-pile planter in front of the museum, hoping to lure passersby. Over the next seventeen years, Rusch created an entire sculptural environment, covering two acres. He had seen other outdoor art gardens, including the Dickeyville Grotto (GT4), the Wisconsin Concrete Park (PR2), and the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, and he kept these sources of inspiration in mind. On the flat lawn in front of his museum, he positioned forty-five sculptural objects, ranging in height from twelve inches to almost twenty feet. He used the malleable medium of concrete, which he dyed or painted, adding pebbles, mirrors, and pieces of broken pottery as the concrete began to set. A most memorable and spectacular piece is the 160-foot fence bounding the garden. Rusch built this fence-sculpture in a single summer, setting it against the backdrop of the Mississippi River bluffs. The fence’s repeating arched forms are separated by rocket-like posts. Other pieces in the garden include large dinosaurs, a watchtower, a “sun spire,” an enormous two-handled jug, a Hindu castle, a concrete mountain, and a self-portrait. Rusch also added several creations by his friend Halvor Landsverk, a sculptor from Minnesota: a polar bear and a seal, an Indian on horseback, an Indian maiden, and a man fighting a bear.