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Finding Minnesota: Vining Sculptures In Otter Tail County

By Mike Binkley, WCCO-TV

VINING, Minn. (WCCO) -- The town of Vining doesn't have even 100 residents, but it does have more than its share of characters. For example, the life-sized elephant made out of lawnmower blades, or the Big Foot made from scrap metal.

They're among dozens of sculptures that cause drivers to hit the brakes as they're passing through Otter Tail County.

"I think around this area, just this area, there's like 24, 25 sculptures," said Glen McDowell, manager and co-owner of the Big Foot Gas and Grocery in Vining.

They all come from one soft-spoken man. Ken Nyberg is a retired construction foreman who now spends a lot of time in his own shop.

"It's my getaway," said Nyberg, 73. "I don't have to hang around the house all the time."

He can take a welding torch, metal rods and some used lawnmower blades and create a rhinoceros.

That's the artist in him.

But it's the Norwegian in him that won't let him accept many compliments from those who stop to take a look.

"They tell me that they really enjoy this stuff," he said, "and I'm sure there are just as many people that don't care at all."

In fact, people marvel at the creativity, and ask about the deeper meaning behind some of the sculptures -- for example, the cockroach crawling on a pair of pliers, or the giant clothespin next to the Post Office.

"They talk about all of them and there really isn't any good answer to any of it," he said. "It's just a lot of nonsense. I think of a lot of things throughout the year (for possible sculptures). But it seems like whenever it comes time to start one, it's whatever seems good that day."

If the sight of so many sculptures in one small town seems a little out of this world, then maybe it runs in the Nyberg family. You see, one of his six kids is an astronaut.

Ken's daughter, Karen Nyberg has already been to the International Space Station once, and is going back in a couple of years.

"It's different, for darn sure," he said, when asked to describe having an astronaut in the family. "It's something you would've never dreamt of. No way."

Deep down, you assume Nyberg is really proud of his family and his accomplishments.  Different people just have different ways of expressing themselves. He's clearly enjoying this stage of his life.

"My retirement years have been the best ones of my life," he said. "And the fact that there's no schedule. I can just do as I please."

The biggest collection of Nyberg's sculptures can be found in a park next to Big Foot Gas and Grocery, along Highway 210 on Vining's west end. The lot is now named Nyberg Park.

He has also created sculptures for surrounding communities, including Henning, New York Mills, Byron, Parkers Prairie and Fergus Falls.

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