Build It and They Will Come!
By Belinda Davis
Gary started The Enchanted Highway, a roadside sculpture project, in 1991. He left his profession in education and moved back to his hometown to try to impact its future. He’s been building gigantic sculptures along the highway into Regent for twelve years now and has no intention of stopping. His original inspiration was in a field on the farm-to-market road. A local farmer had constructed an iron strong man lifting a round hay-bale. Gary enjoyed the public art but what he noticed most was all the attention this statue was getting from travelers. He wondered if something even larger would get more attention. He wondered if he could create something that would entice travelers to come to Regent, North Dakota.
A folk artist was born. Gary Greff, the artist, now works exclusively on metal sculptures for the Enchanted Highway. His medium is used farm equipment and old oil-well metals. He uses the welding skills every farm boy learns. He creates designs in collaboration with any local artist who wants to brainstorm and each sculpture employs a different style of metal design. The sculptures are built on a grand scale to be an impression on the prairie landscape. The smallest pheasant chick is 20 feet long and 15 feet tall while the Geese in Flight sculpture weighs in at 75 tons and is 156 feet long and 110 feet tall.
The public art project is a venture that has involved the whole highway community three small towns and several farms. Farmers and townspeople have donated land, materials and finances to The Enchanted Highway non-profit organization to ensure that the project is successful. In times when community support dwindles, Gary keeps at it by writing grants, seeking donations and creatively partnering with groups like the local Boy Scout troop and having them weld, sandblast and paint sculptures.
The Enchanted Highway project is twelve years along and includes the following sculptures: The Tin Family, Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again, Pheasants on the Prairie, Grasshoppers in the Field, Deer Crossing and Geese in Flight. North Dakota now includes The Enchanted Highway on its official State map. The Guinness World Book of Records honored the Geese in Flight sculpture in 2002 as the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture. When The Enchanted Highway opened a gift shop last summer, to help sustain the project, over 10,000 travelers signed the guest book. They came from everywhere. Now Gary watches people drive to Regent, North Dakota to see these large metal creations and he thinks about new businesses opening. He envisions more employment for local people. He sees his dream is becoming a reality and the future looks bright for Regent. For Gary Greff, the most critical outcome, that of strengthening the economic viability of his hometown, is happening through art.
A professor from North Dakota State University said of The Enchanted Highway project, “Folk artists make imagery dealing with what they know best. Farmers are artists of the land, and the imagery appearing in these sculptures is folk art in its finest form.”
View the sculptures at the following web sites:
For further information or to donate to the project:
The Enchanted Highway
Gary Greff was raised on a farm in Regent with nine brothers and sisters. He left for college and has degrees in both primary and secondary education with a master’s degree in Education Administration. He worked as a teacher and junior high school principal in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana before returning to Regent in 1991. For more information Gary can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Belinda Davis is an economic developer for two rural counties in North Dakota. She helps the Enchanted Highway and other local businesses in their marketing efforts. Ms. Davis was raised in Oregon but discovered North Dakota and prairie skies in 1999. Her writing portfolio includes everything from policy manuals and grants to essays and short stories.
This article was originally published in Landscape & Art, Summer 2003.