Public Art in South Dakota

“Dignity,” by Dale Lamphere, photograph by author, 2016.

The new 50-foot “Dignity” sculpture, by sculptor Dale Lamphere and chief welder Tom Trople, installed at a point above the highway at Chamberlain has me thinking about South Dakota’s public art and the history thereof.  So here’s some that I can think of… suggestions and additions are very welcome!

Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Most assuredly the best known work of public art in South Dakota.  The memorial was designed by Gutzon Borglum and built from 1927-1941.  The original idea for a memorial was actually from Doane Robinson, state historian, who proposed carving historical figures of the American West into the Needles rock formations south of the current memorial.  There has been so much written on Mount Rushmore that I won’t even be able to summarize it.  Check out the NPS website here.  A photograph of Borglum working on his model for the memorial, on the SDSHS Digital Archive website here.

“Spirit of Crazy Horse” Memorial: Sculpture designed by Korczak Ziolkowski.  Also, has been covered extensively by many others.  Check out their website here.  Photo of the artist with a model of the sculpture on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

The Mitchell Corn Palace: The current building dates to 1922, but the Mitchell Corn Palace has been a fixture in Mitchell since 1892.  The palace has always been decorated with corn in various designs and patterns, but major artists including Oscar Howe (discussed later too) have long been involved in creating the mural panels that generally change annually.

Sioux Falls

The large and controversial Statue of David was sculpted by Felix G.W. De Wheldon off the painting by Michelangelo in 1971 and installed in Fawick Park in 1973.

At Augustana University:

  • Moses was sculpted by Felix G.W. De Wheldon off the painting by Michelangelo in 1967-1968 and is installed west of the Morrison Commons building.
  • Highsight – Insight – Foresight (1985) by Palmer Eide and Ogden Dalrymple and is installed east of Morrison Commons.
  • The college has a sculpture of its mascot, Ole the Viking, installed west of the Administration Building.
  • The Muse of Music by Palmer Eide and Ogden Dalrymple.

At Sioux Falls’ City Hall, fresco murals by Edwin Boy Johnson (1904-1968) were installed in the city commission chambers at the time of the buildings’ construction in 1936.  Local sculptor Palmer Eide designed relief sculpture blocks for the exterior of the building.  The building (and its art?) was a project of the Public Works Administration.

Rapid City

Dinosaur Park: Located on Skyline Drive in Rapid City, visit all year!  From Living New Deal website, “R. L. Bronson, secretary of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, first propositioned the idea of a Dinosaur Park to federal agencies…. Dr. Barnum Brown, curator of the American Museum of Natural History served as a design consultant and provided exact measurements of the dinosaurs.  Emmit A. Sullivan was appointed designer and superintendent of construction once the site was prepared, assisted by WPA engineer Walter Walking.”  Photo on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

At Main Street Square, artist Masayuki Nagase is currently working on the completion of the large sculptural art work “Passage of Wind and Water.”  More about the project on their website here.


Tetonkaha by Krete Kendall Miller.  Installed in a niche of the Coolidge Sylvan Theater (an outdoor amphitheater) at South Dakota State University in 1932.  [If the link above doesn’t work, try this one.  Or search 311832 on Smithsonian’s “Collections Search Center“].  In a 2013 report from SDSU, the statue’s name has been changed to “Wenona” and moved to the Wenona Hall building [Diversity and Inclusion at SDSU: A Progress Report (2013), 16].


The South Dakota State Capitol features several murals including “The Spirit of the West” by Edwin Howland Blashfield, which is now permanently covered, and others by Charles Holloway, Edward Simmons, and William Peaco.  There are also several statues and sculptures, which “include a marble statue of General William H.H. Beadle, who delivered the oration when the corner stone for the Capitol was laid; four bronze sculptures by Dale Lamphere which were commissioned in commemoration of the South Dakota Centennial in 1989; a bust of Governor Peter Norbeck by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum; and the Sherrard Plate, which was placed in the Capitol in 1912 in honor of Elizabeth Hazelton Sherrard, the founder of the South Dakota Children’s Home” [from SD Capitol Centennial website here].

Fighting Stallions by Korczak Ziolkowski.  Sculpture installed southwest of the state capitol building.  Photo of sculpture model on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

“Woman and Deer,” Photograph by author, December 2016.

Woman and Deer by Fred Hill was installed in Riverside (Griffin) Park in Pierre in 1939.

Several state buildings have public art installed.  There is a relief sculpture of a map of the state on the Joe Foss Building and three panels on the industry of South Dakota by Ogden Dalrymple on the Sigurd Anderson building.  At the Cultural Heritage Center, the sculpture Citadel by Dale Lamphere is now installed at the front walk leading up to the museum.  Photo on SDSHS Digital Archives here.  Dale Lamphere has several public sculptures around the state, including in Rapid City and Huron, and in other states.  “Our Ancient Past, Present, and Future” by Paul War Cloud is a mural that hangs just inside the museum entrance.  A 1972 photo of the artist with the mural is on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

New Deal Art (profiles on the website “Living New Deal” are provided where I can):

  • Post Offices
    • The Building of Grand Crossing by Lazlo “Laci” de Gerenday (1912–2001).  Relief sculpture in walnut originally mounted in 1940 in the Aberdeen Federal Courthouse and Post Office (built 1936).  A project of the Section of Fine Arts.
    • Spirit of Beresford by David McCosh (1903-).  Oil on canvas mural in the Beresford Post Office (built 1939) completed in 1942.  A project of the Section of Fine Arts.
    • Wheat in Shock by Matthew E. Ziegler (1897-1981).  Oil on canvas mural mounted on paperboard in the Flandreau Post Office (built 1938) completed in 1940.  A project of the Section of Fine Arts.  Image of a study for the mural is on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website here.
    • Return from the Fields by Elof Wedin (1901-1983).  Oil on canvas mural in the Mobridge Post Office installed at the time of construction in 1938.  A project of the Section of Fine Arts.
    • The Fate of a Mail Carrier–Charlie Nolin–1876by J. K. Ralston.  Installed at the Sturgis Post Office in 1939.  Photo on SDSHS Digital Archives here. A project of the Section of Fine Arts.
    • Fish Story by Marion Overby.  Three-piece wood relief sculptures installed at the Spearfish Post Office (now Great Western Bank) in 1943.  A project of the Section of Fine Arts.
    • The First White Man in South Dakota by Irvin “Shorty” Shorpe (-1977).  Oil on canvas mural installed in the Webster Post Office in 1939.  A project of the Section of Fine Arts.
  • Other Public Buildings
    • Davison County Courthouse murals by Bill Lackey (1919-2003), a South Dakota artist.  The murals were completed in 1938.  A project of the South Dakota Artists Project (part of the Works Progress Administration).
    • Yankton City Hall murals by Bill Lackey with Sarah Anna Simmons Crane, installed c.1939. A project of the South Dakota Artists Project (part of the Works Progress Administration).
    • Relief carvings of Indian and pioneer by El Comancho.  Installed on the front doors of the Rapid City Historical Museum in about 1938.  A project of the Works Progress Administration and the Indian Arts & Crafts Board.
  • Oscar Howe is one of the premier artists of the twentieth century, definitely in South Dakota, and arguably in the country.  He branched into professional mural-painting as a contributor to the New Deal-era South Dakota Artists Project.  In 1940, he painted the “Sun and Rain Clouds Over Hills” murals in the Carnegie Library dome in Mitchell.  He also painted ten murals, in sets of five called the “Ceremonies of the Sioux” and “History along the Missouri River,” at the Mobridge Auditorium (now the Scherr-Howe arena) in 1941 before he started his military service in Europe.  An image of the Scherr-Howe murals on the SDSHS Digital Archives here.
  • American Island animal sculptures by Joy Jones, Andre Boratko, and Paul Mountain.  There are eagles installed at the Avenue of Flags and a squirrel and fox at the Chamberlain Swimming Pool.  There is a photo of artist Joy Lackey working on very similar eagles on the WPA Murals website profile for her husband William–Was her maiden name Jones?   A Works Progress Administration project.  Profile for the eagles here on Smithsonian website, also profiles for the others too.
  • As well as the above entries for Dinosaur Park (Rapid City), Sioux Falls City Hall, and Girl and Doe (Pierre)

Throughout the state, there are massive, elegant concrete tipis built at interstate rest stops.  They were designed by Sioux Falls architect Ward Whitwam and erected through the 1960s.  The sculptures were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.  A historic photo of the tipi with the original dugout-style rest stop building at Wasta on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

Sculptural war memorials include:

  • Defenders of Our Nation is a Civil War veterans memorial in a corner park east of Capitol Lake in Pierre.  Historic photo from the dedication on June 1, 1920 on SDSHS Digital Archives here.
  • Civil War Soldiers Monument by T.H. Jennings, erected in 1904 at the Grant County Courthouse in Milbank.
  • A Civil War memorial in Dell Rapids.
  • A Civil War memorial erected in 1908 in Lincoln Park in Hurley.  Photo of the G.A.R. Monument also in: Hurley Historical Association, From Covered Wagon to Compact Car: Hurley, 1883-1983 (Freeman SD: Pine Hill Press, 1983), 70.
  • A Civil War memorial erected in 1931 in Parker city park.
  • A Civil War memorial erected in 1905 facing the entrance in Riverside Memorial Cemetery in Aberdeen.  The memorial was ordered from Brown Brothers, built of granite from Ortonville, Minnesota, and funds were raised by the Robert Anderson Women’s Relief Corps Post No 18 [Aberdeen Democrat (SD), March 24, 1905].
  • The Company H Monument, Spanish-American War memorial dedicated in 1902 at the Codington County Courthouse in Watertown.
  • Spanish-American War memorial installed in 1900 in City Park in Spearfish.
  • A World War I Doughboy memorial by John Paulding erected in 1924 at the Tripp County Courthouse in Winner.
  • A World War I Doughboy memorial by Louis R. Kirchner erected in 1919 in a city park in Clark.
  • Spirit of the American Doughboy by E.M. Viquesney erected in 1935 on the Standing Rock Reservation near Bullhead.
  • The State Capitol and many county courthouses have general veterans memorials as well.

South Dakota Veterans Affairs has posted online a listing from 2013 of veterans memorials by county.

There are several public folk art installations in the state:

Petrified Wood Park in Lemmon was made by laborers hired by Ole Quammen to provide jobs during the Depression.  It has a gas station, museum, and many free-standing arrangements including a castle, all made of petrified wood, petrified grasses, and cannonball boulders, most of which were found locally.  The park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  Profile on here.

Field Stone Castle in Bison (or maybe that is the Lemmon park and just mislabeled…).  Photo on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

Porter Sculpture Park near Montrose, accessible close to Interstate-90.  Wayne Porter has a whole section of imaginative sculptures set up as a roadside attraction.  The park’s website here.

Sculptures near Clark.  Ken Bell has made several wonderful ‘junk’ sculptures on land west of town.  Photos and more in a 2015 post on the South Dakota Magazine website here.

The Flintstone Village Theme Park near Custer.  Photo, 1970s maybe?, of visitors at the Flintstone Residence on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

The integration of murals and relief sculpture was common for county courthouses throughout the early twentieth century.  These counties have murals of various ages: Brookings by Oscar Lee (c.1929), Davison by Bill Lackey (as above, 1938), Codington by Vincent Aderente, Deuel, Moody, Beadle, Lake, Charles Mix, and Grant.

Statues of historical and religious figures are a common form of public art.  There are the Trail of Presidents in Rapid City and Trail of Governors in Pierre.  There are also sculptures of a bust of Sitting Bull by Jack Shillingstad near Mobridge (another profile here), a bust of Frank Fools Crow by T. Jay Warren at Bear Butte State Park, Abraham Lincoln in Mission Hill, St. Francis of Assisi by Harry Klessen in Sioux Falls, St. Joseph with adolescent Christ by Ron Zeilinger in Chamberlain at St. Joseph Indian School, Kateri Tekakwitha by Emile Brunet in St. Francis, Our Lady of the Sioux by Christine Fogg in Oglala, Miriam Rebekah at a fountain in Lincoln Park in Hurley, General John A. Logan by D.H. McVay at the State Veterans Home in Hot Springs, Captain Grant P. Marsh by Frank Yaggie in Riverside Park in Yankton, Albert H. Brown by George Yostel in Greenwood Cemetery in Mobridge, Elizabeth Sherrard by Monique Ziolkowski and James Borglum near Keystone, Thomas Johnston Grier by Allen George Newman in Lead, Andrew Melgaard by Alice Lettig Siems in Aberdeen, Father Jean Pierre de Smet by Michael Peleman in DeSmet, Martin Marty at Mount Marty College in Yankton, Martin Marty with child by Mrs. Carl Zimmerman at St. Paul’s Church mission in Marty, William H.H. Beadle by H. Daniel Webster at Dakota State University in Madison, a bust of Wild Bill Hickok by Korczak Ziolkowski in Deadwood at Sherman & Lee Streets, and monuments to Preacher Smith (photo from SDSHS, though there was also a non-figurative monument somewhere in Deadwood too, photo) and Wild Bill Hickok at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.

Exterior building murals seem more of a modern phenomenon, but there are several in Rapid City, Huron, and Brookings.  At one point, a landscape mural was installed in downtown Watertown in a small urban park, as shown in this 1983 photo on SDSHS Digital Archives here.  Several cities including Sioux Falls and Yankton have also started downtown sculpture walks that are really cool too.

Schools, gymnasiums, and auditoriums also often hosted artist murals.  There are murals of various size and complexity at the Mobridge Auditorium (as above, 1941),  the Pollock School by Bill Lackey (c.1939, now demolished), Old Marty Gymnasium by Felix Walking Elk (1938), and Red Cloud Indian School administration and gymnasium by Felix Walking Elk).  Some art at schools was integrated right into the building, such as the symbols built into the brickwork at Stephan, photo on SDSHS Digital Archives here.

Then there is a TON of stained glass throughout that state in churches and courthouses that, with other religious art, was some of the earliest public art available to the most South Dakotans.  There are beautiful free-standing stone grotto/monuments at Catholic churches in Tabor, Farmer, and Oelrichs.  There are some seriously impressive art installations in and on Modernist churches as well including mosaics at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Sioux Falls, First Lutheran in Brookings, and Blue Cloud Abbey near Summit.  There is other Modernist outdoor sculpture at many churches too.

In the 1990s, the Smithsonian Institution’s program for Save Outdoor Sculpture! inventoried many, many outdoor sculptures throughout South Dakota, including at colleges like:

  •  The School of Mines in Rapid City by RaVae Marsh Luckhart, Candice Forrett, and Andrew Leicester.
  • Augustana University in Sioux Falls by Christiane T. Martens, Bruce Hanson, and Steve Thomas.
  • The University of South Dakota in Vermillion by Robin Fritz, Randy Mehaffey, Mac Hornecker, Brian Beacom and Steve Thomas, Nicholas Ward, Martin Wanserski, and Mike Tuma.
  • South Dakota State University in Brookings by Harold L. Pastorius Jr., Mac Hornecker, and Michael Warrick.
  • Northern State University in Aberdeen by Mark Larson.
  • Dakota State University in Madison by Stephan Henslin.
  • The University of Sioux Falls by Doug Baer, Alan Newberg, and Paul Theodore Granlund.

The link for the full results list searching “South Dakota” in the outdoor sculptures in the Smithsonian records, here.

Well, that was very fun.  I was passingly familiar with the Living New Deal website already, but glad to dig into the Smithsonian’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! records.  It was great to get a handle on war memorials too, especially in smaller towns I haven’t been able to explore yet.  There is much more public art in South Dakota than I’d realized.  It’s so easy to overlook when it’s part of our daily landscape.  Are their owners and hosts caring for them as well as they could, are there resources for them to know how to do so?  I also highly suspect that the support for public art and the market for funding public art isn’t as robust or cutting edge as elsewhere, despite efforts for sculpture walks and the new Dale Lamphere sculpture.


2 thoughts on “Public Art in South Dakota

  1. Pingback: 50 States of Public Art: Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota | CATERPICKLES

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