Amazing Sculpture Yard, Covill, MN

The message inside the amazing sculpture yard on the North Shore MN

On a remote stretch of Highway 61 northeast of Grand Marias, MN there is a cabin with an amazing sculpture yard made from driftwood, rocks, and lots of other random stuff. This is one of those places that you drive by, slow down, and say, “What the heck is that?”

roadside art on the North Shore MN

Rock and driftwood yard art with a message

Some people love it, others hate it, but everyone wonders what it is. And why? Rumors include  “the guy retired and went crazy” or “just another eccentric artist on the North Shore.” This article will settle the rumors and answer the dying question of why the amazing sculpture yard on the North Shore it was made (and continues to grow).

The lovers and the haters

The display is found between mile markers 118 and 119 on Hwy 61, and it stretches several hundred feet across the property. At first glance, it looks like a giant mound of rock and driftwood (which it is, to an extent).

Driftwood and rock display, Hovland MN

Look closer and you’ll find all manner of woodland creatures, mannequin heads, shiny things, and all sorts of weirdness. It’s enormous! The display has grown over the years, since about 2011. It has definitely gotten more bizarro over time! 

If you were ok with the towering driftwood sculptures topped with vines, and the cacophony of birdhouses, smiling creatures, garden globes, dangling CDs on strings, and other shiny things intertwined in the rock and driftwood, maybe the mannequin heads pushed you over the edge? Or maybe it draws you in even more and gives you an appreciation for this labor of love? What is this guy thinking?

mannequin heads in the roadside art display, North Shore MN

Whenever this roadside display is brought up in North Shore Facebook Groups, the comments reveal quite the controversy between the lovers and the haters. Some think it’s an eyesore made of trash, and the work of a deranged person. Others enjoy the creativity, the hidden treasures, and the bigger message. 

How the amazing sculpture yard began

I had to get the story about this thing, so one day I knocked on the door. A very nice man, looking 60-ish (and not deranged), came to the door. Chuck was his name and he took me on a tour! 

Harmony on 61, roadside art in Hovland, MN

The creator amidst his work.

Chuck is from Maplewood and this is his Up North cabin. The property’s landscape is made up of rhyolite, which is a type of lava rock abundant around Lake Superior. In fact, Chuck’s front yard is Lake Superior, and his backyard is a tall rhyolite cliff. 

This rock doesn’t hold soil or vegetation very well, and over time (especially during the big storms in 2011 and 2012) some problematic erosion occurred. Something had to be done! 

He tried enhancing the land with materials such as sod and soil, but it kept washing away. So he decided to build a protective berm in front of his house with the readily available driftwood and rock. 

He would fill in the problem areas, stand back to look, then add a little more here and there. 

yard art in Hovland, MN on the North Shore

As he continued to build, he became more intentional with the placement of materials so they would look interesting. Eventually, he added all kinds of new elements, statement pieces, and cool random things that inspire joy. 

He has made significant investments in some of the larger items, as well as plants, flowers, and yards and yards of soil and rock. 

Over time, Chuck discovered that he was hooked on a new hobby! It became a labor of love. 

Inspired by nature

Among the driftwood, rock, and random items are statues of friendly critters like smiling foxes, squirrels, wolves, lynxes, eagles, birds, and deer. There are hundreds of them living and hiding in the rubble. Big ones and small ones; you have to look closely to see most of them! 

driftwood display in Hovland, Mn North Shore

These happy little creatures were placed here to pay homage to the local inhabitants. Chuck is a nature lover. He told me stories about the local otters that skirt the shoreline, the eagles that perch on the trees above the cliff, and the family of foxes that lives in a den nearby (they are famous by the way, having been visited by big-time nature photographers). 

He quietly pays attention and has a great appreciation for the natural world, which is reflected in the amazing sculpture yard.  

The Piece de Resistance

There’s a lot going on here, and that’s part of the fun! You have to zoom in to get a full appreciation for all the little things hidden in the cracks. It’s a treasure hunt to see what you can find – a tin man, a mini tugboat, a pair of fishing frogs, a smiling squirrel, or Wilson from the movie Castaway. 

yard art display in hovland, mn driftwood display near Grand Marais, MN

Zoom out and you’ll notice some of the larger pieces like an old-time Sinclair gas pump, statement signage with messages like Pax Vobiscum (peace to you), and the piece de resistance – a custom-made metal moose that sits in front of the house where the project began. See a picture of the moose posing with the artist above. 

There’s also a giant rock sculpture of a heart and dove, elaborate rock pathways, plants, and wildflowers galore.  

driftwood and rock display on the North Shore Mn

A lot of the smaller items were found at garage sales and shops, while others were gifted by friends and strangers. Chuck especially loves the things his grandchildren have added.

The inspiration is in the details of the amazing sculpture yard

The haters say it’s an eyesore. But if you look closely and open your heart and mind, you will find the message of harmony, peace, and joy.  Here’s where the mannequin heads come in. 

They are all different, some of them creepy-looking, and they’re all living happily together in the same place. To put them all together along with the smiling woodland creatures, unique sculptures, and the banners promoting peace and unity, it sends a message of welcome and inclusion to all passing by. 

mannequin heads in roadside art, hovland, mn

Many of the seemingly random objects are part of the message of harmony, peace, and joy. Flowers and plants add life and beauty. The shiny things like CD’s hanging from strings, and garden globes perched upon towers of driftwood are there to reflect the sun’s natural light and bring brightness into the world. The heart and dove sculptures bring peace and love. The smiling critters will make you smile and bring a little joy to your day. 

How else does this artist inspire change?

While Chuck is not working on creating harmony, peace, and joy on the North Shore MN, he works for change in the Minnesota Senate. Chuck Wiger has been a Minnesota State Senator since 1997 in District 43, which includes portions of Ramsey and Washington counties in the northeastern Twin Cities metro area. 

driftwood display Hovland MN

This DFLer has championed a number of important causes to improve the lives of Minnesotans.  Examples include ensuring every student has access to a high-quality education regardless of their zip code, keeping healthcare workers safe from violence, and empowering students in the fight against climate change. 

The Amazing Sculpture Yard, Northeast of Grand Marais, MN

So now the stories are settled! The work turned from function to fashion. It continues to intrigue, bewilder, and inspire passers-by on Highway 61 in Colvill, MN. 

It has become a local landmark and roadside attraction. Cars are frequently stopped on the side of the road to look or take pictures. In fact, as Chuck and I were standing in the yard talking, someone that was outside of their car taking pictures asked us to move because we were in the way, lol! 

Even if the looks aren’t your cup of tea, after learning the background and the message, hopefully, viewers can open their hearts and minds to the joy it is intended to deliver. 

Please note, this is not an operating tourist attraction, it is private property. There is no parking. I recommend driving by slowly to see it but be mindful that the speed limit is 60mph, so use caution not to disrupt other drivers. There are shoulders to pull off the road if you must. 

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28 thoughts on “Amazing Sculpture Yard, Covill, MN

  1. Paul says:

    I think it is a wonderful North Shore treasure! I don’t get the haters? In the 150 miles of the North Shore you can’t put up with 150 feet of art?

  2. Justice Varsho says:

    Loved it! Saw it on the up to Grand Portage and stopped on the way back. Met and talked to Chuck, great guy! Posted pictures on my Facebook page and waited for comments. Will be taking my dad up there with better cameras soon!

  3. Kenny Wheeler says:

    People offended by driftwood, rocks and random debris should probably avoid the Great Lakes entirely. Should he have covered his property in concrete or let his house collapse into the lake? Nobody is required to look at it. You are actually supposed to be watching the road ahead of you are driving.

  4. MK says:

    I’m a gardener, environmentalist, rock hound, and general lover of Cook County, MN. While I guess knowing more about the why behind this thing does help me understand it, I still think this is ugly as sin. I do appreciate the desire to create a message, I’m just not sure that cluttering this landscape with more plastic stuff that will never break down is the best way to do it. Glad to hear there are wild flowers and stones somewhere in the midst of that cacophony.

    And hey, in an era where so many people see free speech as an excuse to spread hate and bad mouth, I guess this is one expression that still comes from the heart.

    That said, it’s not my cup of tea.

  5. Mark Curtis says:

    We were vacationing in Grand Marais for the first time a year ago (about a week before this article was published). Wife and I stopped across the road to take a few photos and Chuck invited us up to the house to have a closer look. The place is really neat and Chuck is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. We spent a good twenty minutes poking around and talking to him about the sculptures.

    • Melissa Dressely says:

      Oh that is so nice! Chuck is very nice, I really enjoyed the tour he gave me. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Aldame says:

    What an awful eyesore on this otherwise beautiful stretch of paradise. That the artist REQUIRES us to look at his display while driving by speaks nothing of peace and harmony. Put your crap in the back of your house where people don’t have to see it. A sad, sad situation.

  7. Peg says:

    Drove by on the way to Grand Marais and looked for it specifically on our return. It’s delightful, thought provoking, is well organized, and reminds me somewhat of a grotto. A nice break in the drive and cheers to providing joy to travelers.

  8. Barbara Reinhart says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Although it is doubtful I will ever see it in person, the story and pictures made me smile. Thankfully, there are many others who enjoy it. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  9. Kathy Madison says:

    My daughter in law’s mom lives just down the street on the lake side. We went up there 3 weeks ago and Misty just had to show me the artful yard. I was super duper tickled with the entire thing. Being a rockhound, I absolutely love the walkway. It is surely something to see.

  10. Julie says:

    Great article. Informative, funny, suspenseful, and with a more modern writing style than most journalists.

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