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Art You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Ruminant finds a permanent place to park in Reedsburg
A playful tribute to agriculture, farming, and food by sculptor Karl Unaasch, "Ruminant (The Grand Masticator)" illuminates a cornfield along Wormfarm's Farm/Art D'Tour. Photo by Aaron Dysart.

Harvest Park of downtown Reedsburg is the new home of Ruminant (The Grand Masticator), a John Deere 6600 harvesting combine clad in 34 agriculturally themed backlit stained glass panels. An endearingly outsized mash-up of stained glass, agricultural symbolism, and popular culture—all bolted to the chassis of an iconic piece of farm equipment—artist Karl Unnasch’s one-of-a-kind sculpture made a big impression on area artists and farmers alike when it first appeared in a cornfield along Fermentation Fest’s Farm/Art DTour route in 2013. 

Hosted by the Wormfarm Institute and featuring artists, farmers, and food experts from across the U.S., Fermentation Fest is an annual, multifaceted celebration of food and farming spread across the 50 miles surrounding rural Reedsburg. Part of the annual celebration, the Farm/Art DTour is a 50-mile self-guided back roads tour through the unglaciated hills and valleys of Sauk County punctuated by farm-fresh produce stands and temporary art installations.

An artist with “one foot in Wisconsin and another in Minnesota,” Karl Unnasch says he composed Ruminant (The Grand Masticator) as a playful tribute to agriculture, farming, and food. “Just as food goes through several chewings and other processes as it is picked and broken down by cattle, so does the harvest as it is gathered and processed by a combine, or art as it is pondered and enjoyed by its viewer,” he says.

“During Fermentation Fest, Ruminant drew a lot of attention and many locals identified with it as a monument to Reedsburg’s agricultural heritage,” says Joann Mundth Douglas, chair of the Ruminant/Harvest Park Project Committee. But finding a permanent home for Ruminant wasn’t easy. According to Douglas, the effort “took thousands of volunteer hours to plan, to coordinate with the artist and the City of Reedsburg and, of course, to fundraise.”

Thanks to a strong public/private partnership that garnered funds from a Sauk County/UW Extension Arts and Humanities Grant, a Herbert Webb Endowment grant administered by the City of Reedsburg, and City of Reedsburg Room Tax dollars, the Ruminant/Harvest Park Project Committee had a base of resources they could leverage through local private funding and a national Kickstarter campaign. After some initial resistance by the City Council, in April 2014 the Committee received approval to convert a vacant lot next to the downtown Chamber of Commerce building into the small park in which this glowing “agricultural cathedral” would become the centerpiece. On October 3, 2014, Ruminant was formally donated and dedicated to the City of Reedsburg. 

Unnasch, who creates stained glass and architectural art in his Chatfield, Minnesota, studio, is more than pleased to see his work in a public space. He notes that the joys and curiosities generated by art should be accessible to everyone, not just to a select few. “It is my aim to create non-discriminatory aesthetic niches of discovery which viewers of all ages—and from all walks of life—can access, ponder and enjoy.” 

In this small Wisconsin town of just under 10,000 people, Ruminant has indeed become a niche of discovery for all to enjoy. This public sculpture, in conjunction with the annual Fermentation Fest Farm/Art DTour from which it sprang, will continue to inspire and delight Reedsburg residents and visitors for decades to come.

Contributors

Jason A. Smith is the associate director of the Wisconsin Academy and editor of the organization's quarterly magazine of Wisconsin thought and culture, Wisconsin People & Ideas.

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