Sold for scrap: Franconia Sculpture Park removes sculpture by founder

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Updated: March 18, 11 a.m. | Posted: March 15, 3:22 p.m. 

Prometheus has been sold for scrap.

Or rather, “Prometheus III” — a gigantic steel sculpture that stood at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer for years — was dismantled and sold for scraps to Amery Auto Salvage of Wisconsin. The artist, John Hock, said he thought it was a theft and reported it to the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office. 

“No matter what, ‘Prometheus’ was my property,” Hock told MPR News.

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But Franconia Executive Director Alex Legeros and the nonprofit’s board chair Stacy O’Reilly say the nonprofit had asked Hock several times over several years to remove the sculpture from the grounds. They say the 53-foot-high and 34,000-pound sculpture was unsafe — and besides, the nonprofit had no obligation to house it.

On Dec. 28, 2023, the Franconia Sculpture Park had the sculpture removed by Amery Auto Salvage, which paid the nonprofit $200 for the scrap metal, O’Reilly said.

“Prometheus III.”

Courtesy of John Hock

Hock co-founded the sculpture park in 1996 and, from about 2005 to 2018, he was the nonprofit’s director. In 2018, as first reported by the Star Tribune, Franconia terminated Hock for “inappropriate conduct toward a young female.”

Hock sued the nonprofit over his termination and they reached a confidential settlement in 2019. Part of the settlement included a section about the removal of “Prometheus III.” 

Hock and the nonprofit have shared part of the settlement, which states that the “plaintiff agrees to remove his art from defendant’s property at a mutually agreeable time and under the supervision of at least two board members. Plaintiff may use the Defendant’s equipment to remove the art.”

“In the four years after that Hock did absolutely nothing to even plan or discuss the parts removal from the work pad with anybody at Franconia,” O’Reilly told MPR News. The work pad is the site of sculptures in progress and those being dismantled.

According to Hock, the settlement did not define a timeline for removal. O’Reilly and Legeros confirm this.

Hock first noticed “Prometheus III” was missing on Feb. 7, when he was driving by the sculpture park.

“I would always see it there, because it was kind of large, so it disrupted the horizon,” Hock said. 

“I was thinking ‘Oh, maybe they took it apart and maybe the parts are laying around. There weren’t any parts anywhere. It was gone, and you could see the footprint of where it was,” Hock continued. “I freaked out. I mean, I basically started crying.”

Hock said he emailed the Franconia Sculpture Park that day asking “Where is my sculpture?” but didn’t hear back. The following morning, on Feb. 8, Hock said he called the police to report the sculpture stolen.

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John Hock’s diagram of what he said was the location of “Prometheus II” and other parts of the park.

Courtesy of John Hock

Deputy Shane Carroll of the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office followed up with Hock and met him in the parking lot of the sculpture park. Hock provided MPR News with a copy of Deputy Carroll’s report, which the sheriff’s office verified. Deputy Carroll outlined in his report that he also interviewed Legeros on site, and visited the former spot of the sculpture.

“I did go to Franconia Sculpture Park and met [Legeros] due to the fact that there was some discrepancy between John Hock and Alex Legeros on where the sculpture was actually located,” Deputy Carroll said in his report.

Franconia Sculpture Park spans 50 acres. All parties agree that the location is key because it determines whether the sculpture was part of the display sculpture in the public part of the park or in the “boneyard” or work-pad area.

Hock told Deputy Carroll that Prometheus III was on the edge of the “boneyard,” but it was still part of the display area. As cited in the report, Legeros told Deputy Carroll that the sculpture “was not safe to put on display due to not having a base for that sculpture.”

“We did walk to the area that [Legeros] stated was the Boneyard or the work yard area,” Deputy Carroll’s report states. “There was a small sign that basically stated do not enter, however, myself not being familiar with the park, it would have been hard for me to differentiate from where that sculpture was on display or located that hadn’t been part of the sculpture park.”

Legeros told MPR News that one of the reasons it would not be in the display area is because it had no footing or base.

“If it really was 34,000 pounds and 50 feet tall — and I made art here at the park myself — that is an unacceptable condition for any artwork here at the park,” Legeros said. “It was completely unsafe.”

Hock said calling “Prometheus III” unsafe is “crazy.” He estimated that he had been working on the sculpture since 2004. It is the third in a series of Prometheus sculptures, Hock said.

“It was engineered,” Hock said. “It may look precarious, but when you look at it, all the weight came straight down in the center. The thing went through multiple storms, straight-line winds; [it] never moved.” 

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Artist John Hock working on “Prometheus III.”

Courtesy of John Hock

Hock said he was never contacted by Franconia Sculpture Park that “Prometheus III” was to be removed and scrapped.

O’Reilly and Legeros confirm they did not inform Hock specifically that his sculpture was set to be removed and scrapped Dec. 28, 2023. In his report, Deputy Carroll states that Legeros told him that “he was directed by the Franconia Sculpture board not to have contact with John due to prior conflicts and hostility with him.”

Legeros said that Hock would have and should have known that the sculpture would be scrapped after so many years on-site.

“The other thing about this is, all the work in the work pad is recyclable,” Legeros said. “That’s what John set into place as director of this park during his tenure. He knows very well that things that are left there get recycled or used by the park or, as in this case, turned into scrap.”

Legeros, who came on as executive director in September 2023, explained that the majority of work in the park is temporary, rotating out every few years.

Legeros did note that in the past the sculpture decommissioning process at Franconia had not always been done “under ideal circumstances.” Legeros had experienced it himself, with an artwork he co-created at Franconia a few years back.

“Well, we didn’t know the piece was down until we saw in the background of someone’s Instagram post that it wasn’t there anymore,” Legeros said. “So, I’m doing a lot better to contact artists ahead of time and try to ensure that they’re aware of what’s happening before it happens.”

O’Reilly and Legeros say the last contact the nonprofit made with Hock was in May 2023, when the interim director at the time, Sara Rothholz Weiner, emailed and called Hock. Rothholz Weiner said that the email and voicemail she left did not directly reference the removal of the sculpture. Hock told MPR News he did not receive a voicemail, but he confirmed he received the email and it did not discuss sculpture removal.

Rothholz Weiner had simply reached out to find a time to connect, she told MPR News, with the intention of talking about the sculpture removal, among other things. Hock and Rothholz Weiner confirm that he never responded.

O’Reilly and Legeros also provided an email draft from June 2020 by then executive director Ginger Shulick Porcella. The draft outlines items that Hock needed to return to Franconia as well as items he needed to pick up. It also stated, “We can also discuss the next steps for the removal of your sculpture from Franconia, with a target deinstall deadline of no later than July 15, 2020.”

O’Reilly said the email was eventually sent to Hock by Don Porcella, a former production manager at Franconia. Hock said he never received the email. 

“That’s crazy. Never saw it,” Hock said.

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“Prometheus III” sculpture at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer.

Courtesy of John Hock

When asked why he didn’t remove “Prometheus III” in the five years since the settlement outlined its removal, especially because his personal property is nearby the park, Hock said it wasn’t that easy.

“The truth of it was, every year I was looking for a place to send it,” Hock said. He said it would have cost thousands of dollars to move and would have required a crane and wide-load truck. “In a certain kind of way, I couldn’t afford to move it myself.”

Hock said he had been in talks with a collector on the East Coast to purchase it and transfer it to a sculpture park out there. Hock said the removal and scrapping of “Prometheus III” potentially violated the Visual Artists Right Act of 1990, also known as VARA.

VARA outlines “moral rights,” or the rights of a creator over a copyrighted work, providing protections to artworks that exist as single copies such as paintings and sculptures.

“That applies here,” Sharon K. Sandeen told MPR News. Sandeen is a law professor and director of the Intellectual Property Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul. “It’s very technical, but if the sculpture in question was one single copy, then it is a work of visual art under the definition of federal law under VARA.”

However, Sandeen said, it depends on who is the owner of the VARA rights and if Hock created the sculpture as part of the scope of his employment at Franconia Sculpture Park.

Hock and O’Reilly agreed that creating “Prometheus III” was not part of his duties as then-director of the sculpture park.

“If it wasn’t a work made for hire then he does have VARA rights, and so the question then is whether or not the VARA rights were infringed,” Sandeen said.

Clarification (March 18, 2023): A previous version of this story conflated two communications. It has been updated for greater accuracy.

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