Are You Down?: Franconia Sculpture Garden’s New Permanent Installation
By Joel Schettler
When I travel, I am always partial to the out-of-the-way attractions, those that may not be top of mind when you visit a particular area but offer unique experiences nonetheless. One such Minnesota attraction is the Franconia Sculpture Park located near the picturesque community of Taylors Falls, just 35 miles northwest of the St. Paul.
Franconia Sculpture Park is a unique community-arts organization that provides residence and workspace for sculptors from around the world. The 20-acre sculpture park, free and open every day of the year, provides space for a rotating collection of nearly 100 contemporary sculptures. At a special event on September 11, 2012, a new permanent installation—“Are You Down?”—will be dedicated at the site. “Are You Down?” is a moving tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, the informal name given to the group of brave African American pilots who fought during World War II.
“Are You Down?” was created by internationally recognized artist Michael Richards during a Jerome Fellowship residency at Franconia Sculpture Park in 2000. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Richards was raised in Kingston, Jamaica, but he graduated with honors from Excelsior High School. He went on to earn an arts degree from Queens College and a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University. After his work at Franconia, Richards was selected for World Views, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s residency program. He was at work in his studio in the World Trade Center and was tragically killed during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The sculpture depicts three airmen who have just landed from a parachute jump, sitting disconsolate on the ground. The downed men speak to the bravery of the aviators during a time of war, but also of freedoms and dreams that have come to the ground in the face of intolerance. Originally made of fiberglass resin, the sculpture was recently recast in bronze for the permanent installation.
The poignant piece preserves the legacy of Michael Richards’ art on a day that carries with it the weight of a pivotal moment in U.S. history and the life of the artist.
Franconia Sculpture Park is on St. Croix Trail southeast of Taylors Falls.