Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Saving Lanning Garden

(Above) The main sign for the Lanning Garden.

(Above) Bidders at the auction.

(Above) left to right: Kelly Ludwig, John Foster and Wade Thompson from Missouri State. Click image for larger view.

(Above) Bidders listen to the auctioneer start the bidding.

(Above) Sadly, as happens to many estates where there is no will, everything—down to the spoons and forks, were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

(Above) This concrete church was a key item between bidders. MSU won.

(Above) A unicorn stands watch next to the checkout. This horned fellow was saved.

(Above) Strange Bird, saved for a new sculpture garden at MSU.

(Above) The Angel Gabriel, saved by MSU.

(Above) Two headed dragon, saved!!

(Above) Lady Godiva, saved.

(Above) Children , saved.
(Above) Ballerina, saved.

RALPH AND GRETCHEN LANNING were not just my friends, they were friends to anyone who happened to stop and visit their concrete garden. Ralph was a soldier in WWII, and received 5 Bronze Stars for his service in major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge.

S0metime in the 1970s, Ralph began building concrete sculptures and placing them in and around his 7+ acres of land. Right in front was the concrete heart, announcing you had arrived at Lanning Garden. The Garden was really a love story, a testament to his undying love for his wife Gretchen. Gretchen was a sweetheart—his sweetheart—and they were quite the pair. She was a textile artist, he was a sculptor. Neither were trained whatsoever—Ralph’s knowledge came from practical experience building dams and other public works projects for the CCC during the Great Depression, and so much other everyday experience there was nothing Ralph could not do if he set his mind to it. And in his Garden, he created two headed dragons, mythical creatures, houses, and angels. And it was the angels who came into play after his death.

Gretchen died of cancer a two years ago, and Ralph never quite recovered from it. It took him a year to finally give up and he died in his sleep this past December 19, 2009. I received a call from his court appointed attorney the next day.

Ralph didn’t leave a will. For months prior, I literally begged him to do so. More than anything, Ralph was obsessed with keeping his artwork together, keeping what he called “a museum” for the public to see and visit. He just didn’t plan on dying. He wanted to see it.

But, it didn’t happen. After Ralph died, his estate went into probate, and everything in his life was sold to the highest bidder. That meant the house, the land, the sculptures. Thankfully, the angels I spoke of came into play after his death. The Kohler Foundation of Kohler, Wisconsin stepped up to save as many pieces as possible.

And the beautiful part of all this is that Missouri State University agreed to have the work reinstalled on their campus—a place for the public and their students to continue to enjoy the work for the years to come, carefully reinstalled in a new sculpture garden in honor of Ralph and Gretchen Lanning. All in all, almost 30 major sculptures were saved by the Kohler Foundation and Missouri State University from being scattered to the high winds.

Thanks go to both entities for having the foresight and courage to do the right thing. Ralph and Gretchen are looking down... and smiling. I like that. Though Ralph’s dream of keeping everything intact and there, on his own property was not to be, this is a darn good second best. Stay tuned for more news, as this incredible story continues to play out.


Jane Waggoner Deschner said...

Wonderful work!

Michael Noland said...

John. I am glad that Ralph's pieces were saved for the most part. I am glad I didn't call in a
bid on anything as I had no idea of this project being in the works. I am sure Ralph is happy about it. Mike

alan moyes said...

what a great story. And fantastic art too.

Dull Tool Dim Bulb said...

There is another great artist involved in this story, and it is John Foster himself. I have written a brief appreciation, you can find it on Dull Tool Dim Bulb.

Jennifer Morrison said...

A gratifying story - and yes, a really great second best, as many will continue to enjoy those wonderful sculptures. Looking forward to reading more...

Som's Studio said...

What a touching story! And two thumbs up to MSU to having the work reinstalled on their campus. I've studied from Drury and hubby's from UMR. So Yay!!

Relics said...

Yea Kohler Foundation!!

This are so WONDERFUL!!

Great Post, as usual.


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