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A newly installed sculpture by Saya Woolfalk. Photo courtesy of Franconia Sculpture Park.

A newly installed sculpture by Saya Woolfalk. Photo courtesy of Franconia Sculpture Park

The leaves are just beginning to turn now, and while the days still have much of summer’s warmth, the air is dry and evenings are crisp. This is Minnesota at its most ideal and the perfect time of year for a day trip outside the city. It just so happens that one of the state’s friendliest, weekend excursion-worthy arts festivals is coming up this weekend: Franconia Sculpture Park’s annual Art and Artists Celebration, just an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities.

The iron pour is always a crowd-pleaser. Photo (c) The Country Messenger.

The iron pour at Franconia is always a crowd-pleaser. Photo (c) The Country Messenger

The park itself is worth the trip. Thanks to a generous fellowship and artist-in-residence program, Franconia draws contributing artists from all over the world. Situated in a prairie landscape near Taylor’s Falls, Minn., the park is always filled with arresting contemporary sculpture, by turns eye-fooling, whimsical, monumental and topical. In the aggregate, if you ask me, it’s the most intriguing revolving collection of 3-D work in the state.

Mike Rathbun, Parade, 2013. Photo courtesy of Franconia Sculpture Park.

Mike Rathbun’s new addition to the park, “Parade,” 2013. Photo courtesy of Franconia Sculpture Park

The annual Art and Artists Celebration is a perfect excuse to take in the new mix of work featured in the park each year, and pay a visit to old friends in the permanent collection. There are a couple of artist-led tours highlighting new additions to the park on Saturday afternoon; you can also go hunt for them yourself anytime through the day. Just look for work marked with a yellow flag.

The Public Art Saint Paul roving PASPider art lab, in place at Franconia and ready to go for this weekend's festival. Photo courtesy of Franconia Sculpture Park.

Public Art Saint Paul’s roving PASPider art lab, parked on-site and ready to go for this weekend’s festival. Photo courtesy of Franconia Sculpture Park

Besides the sculpture, there’s a hot metal pour in the afternoon and scads of interactive events going on throughout the park. It’s a perfect event for kids who like to get their hands dirty: participate in graffiti demos with a park artist, Peyton and friends; little ones can make plaster paw prints and find out about local flora and fauna with visiting park rangers. Public Art Saint Paul (a Knight Arts grantee) will be on site throughout the afternoon with their mobile, kinetic PASPider art lab. You’ll also find spin art, face painting, button-making and bubble devices — a whole tent devoted to family art-making activities. Stop by Bridget Beck’s playful “Poetry Studio” for collaborative creative writing workshops from noon to 6 p.m., then head over to the main stage for a live reading of the resulting work in the late afternoon.

There are a couple of stages set aside for live performance: a special nook in the park will be dedicated to ambient music and electronica all day; there will be live theater, poetry and contemporary dance on the festival’s mainstage. The evening lineup features sets by International Reggae Stars and the UnderGroove.

The Art and Artists Celebration is Saturday, September 28 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Franconia Sculpture Park, 29836 St. Croix Trail, Franconia, Minn. Admission to the festival is free; parking is $5 per car. For more information, including a full schedule of events, visit http://www.franconia.org/artandartists.html.

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