First published: Fall 2017
Before the creation of the Enchanted Highway, Gary Greff didn’t have an art or welding background. He was a junior high school principal and a fifth and sixth grade educator in Poplar, Montana. In 1989, the Regent, North Dakota native came back to his hometown to help his ageing parents and he noticed that his hometown’s population was drying up. “I saw that the town of Regent was dying and I had to do something”, Greff said.
Regent is a town of 100 people, nestled in the rolling hills, buttes, cut banks and valleys of the southwest corner of North Dakota. It is a quiet community with a strong agricultural foundation. It has also gained a reputation for being a hunter’s paradise.
Greff’s original plan came to him one fall as he was helping his mother in their garden. While picking onions, he thought of a fresh, diced, onion product and envisioned a factory in Regent. After much speculation and research, Greff invested his savings into a research firm based out of Portage la Prairie in Canada, but he wasn’t about to put all of his onions in one basket – there had to be something else. That same year the 32-mile stretch of road connecting Gladstone to Regent in rural southwest North Dakota was paved. Something clicked when a local farmer started to get a little publicity for creating a roadside statue of a small metal man lifting a hay bale. “That’s what the ranchers and the farmers and the whole midwest are good at – they’re good at welding”, said Greff. “Let’s use what they’re good at to our advantage.”
“I thought, nobody’s going to stop for normal sculptures, but they might stop for the world’s largest”, he said. Until that point, he had never laid a bead of weld.
Upon encountering Gary Greff, you’re met with a big smile. You’ll soon see the spark in his eye, and find out that his enthusiasm is contagious. He approached the local civics board for approval for his plan, and then rallied the local farmers and ranchers who eventually taught Greff how to weld. Together, in 1991, they created the first sculpture on the highway called Tin Family: three figures large enough to have wheel hubs for eyes, augers for earrings and bullet holes for freckles – unfortunately, the latter was not Greff’s doing.
Pheasants on the Prairie, 1996. The rooster pheasant stands 40 ft / 12.2 m and the hen 35 ft / 10.7 m, photo: Sabrina Hornung
When Greff started the project he asked for and accepted donations, but found that his yard was filling up quickly, and questions were being asked once donors didn’t see their metal being put to use. Now, Greff sources from junkyards, and purchases what he needs when he needs it.
According to Greff, when choosing his subject matter he asks himself three questions. Would it look good 60 feet tall? Does it fit the North Dakota theme? And, can it be done?
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #95