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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paradise Found in West Bend's Riverside Park

Art Review

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You'd be wrong to blast to West Bend on the expressway, for on a summer day there's nothing better than Paradise Drive north of Grafton to head you west to where the river bends. It is 75 and sunny the day I enter Riverside Park (700 E. Kilbourn Ave., West Bend). The narrow trails are dotted with a dozen sculptures. And while the art is certainly large and lyrical, ultimately nature wins out.

Because I arrive via Paradise Drive, I am delighted to see a painted steel sculpture titled Paradisedae by Wisconsin artist Narendra Patel. But the 3 miles of trails bustle with orange-and-black monarchs clinging to milkweeds, male cardinals whistling and goldfinch darting hither and yon, and, well, I find myself distracted by a lush riot of purple clover, white lupine and black-eyed Susans standing sentinel near the burbling Milwaukee River as a family wafts downstream in a rubber raft. A fisherman wearing waders ventures forth to test his skills. Teens smooch on benches, picnickers gather, kids play disc golf near willows dipping dreamily on the river's banks. I smile.

I rest on a bench inscribed “In Loving Memory of Michael Joseph Barker,” near a stately pair of columns (Summer's Cauldron by Stephen Hokanson) introducing the first of three curved bridges made by Continental Bridge in Alexandria, Minn. I ask myself, “Are the hands that crafted these bridges every bit as artful as those that shaped the sculptures?”

In the distance, a gray sculpture resembles a remnant of an ancient stone structure. There is no information about the artist. Someone has stacked hefty river stones near the sculpture's base. They enhance the moment. The river rushes on.

Driving home on Rustic Road 52 (25 mph), a large sign on the shoulder proclaims: DO NOT CUT MILKWEED! A life-sized plastic deer peers from a yard. I pass the Cedarburg Bog (Mosquito-ville!) and in Brown Deer I skim the gracious Audubon park. Summer whizzes by my windshield, brief and bountiful.
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