RoadTrip 16: Creative Interpretation

The world was never meant to be WYSIWYG. It’s meant to be torn open, explored, interpreted, and shared through the lens of creativity. That’s why the Universe made artists — in all of our weird and wacky permutations.

Take, for example, the carousel at House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, seen above. Sure, its creator Alex Jordan could have simply built a carousel. He could have found a place on the rolling farmland near Deer Shelter Rock and built a sweet little merry-go-round with colorful horses for guests to ride. OR. Or, he could have built the largest carousel imaginable, built it inside a room in his house, and then furnished it with over 20,000 lights, 182 chandeliers, hundreds of mannequin angels, and 269 animals not one of which is an actual horse!

A walk through House on the Rock — well worth the drive to southeast Wisconsin — is a walk through true creative genius. Or true insanity. Take your pick. Still worth it. Author Neil Gaiman writes about it in American Gods: “Forty years ago, Alex Jordan…began to build a house on a high jut of rock in a field he did not own, and even he could not have told you why. And people came to see him build it – the curious, and the puzzled, and those who were neither and who could not honestly have told you why they came.” Dylan Thuras, co-founder of Atlas Obscura calls it “one of the greatest works of installation art ever created.”

From the envious architectural structure of the house itself and all of its shadowy nooks and overlooks, to the myriad of displays, walkways, collections, gardens, and themed spaces of the museum, you can almost hear the murmur of Jordan’s internal collaborations: Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, P.T. Barnum, Dante Alighieri, Gustov Doré, Giovanni Battista Piranesi.


“What inspires most creators I think is an unquiet mind,” says artist Wayne Porter, creator of the Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, South Dakota (pictured below). “That, and a sense of play.”

wayneporterYou certainly see that at House on the Rock AND in Wayne’s own phenomenal collection. Set on 10 acres right along I-90, he has created more than 50 metal sculptures with names like Smell the Roses While You Can and The Magic Dragon. But don’t let the colorful pieces fool you, there’s an edge to Wayne’s work that speak frankly of that unquiet mind, of the internal conflicts we all confront. Sure, carefree goldfish swim across an open meadow and a giant vase of red flowers entertains a nearby heard of live cattle, but wander father afield to see a mangled Wise Man, the Dissection of a frog prince and maniacal Jack-in-the-Box. Take heart, though, “Pain and joy can co-exist,” Wayne explains in on of the many signs that dot the park, “but neither stays forever.”

So what inspires this SDSU graduate turned sheep farmer turned artist? “Where one comes from matters. I am from an area with lots of horses and cows so it turns up in art. Every book one reads becomes part of oneself and those thoughts can turn up in art. My political science and history interest can be seen in the art and poetry.”

Wait, poetry? Yes. Accompanying the fantastical display of metalwork are a number of Wayne’s original poems. Together, they give you insights into this creative man who works on a hillside next to a highway, greets curious travelers like old friends, and shares his story with the lucky ones who happen upon his world.

“It’s about how we assemble our lives by the decisions we make.” — Ballerina, Wayne Porter


Carousel photo courtesy of House on the Rock. RoadTrip text, carousel video and photos ©2016, Jen Payne.

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