Frank Williams recalls construction of Wilson Park Castle
K. TERRY, Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005
Wilson Park Castle has been a fantasy come true for local children
for the past 25 years. But the single year required to make it a
reality was no fairy tale.
work crews, backbreaking labor and 100-degree temperatures contributed
to what was "a trying year," recalled Frank Williams,
the artist who designed the castle.
who has lived in Russia for the past 13 years, visited Fayetteville
to speak Saturday at a ceremony in honor of the castle's anniversary.
A St. Louis
native with a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and sculpture
from Missouri State University, Williams arrived in Fayetteville
in 1977 to share studio space with a friend who was taking graduate
classes at the University of Arkansas. His plan was to build up
his body of work over the next few years, then move to a larger
city, he said.
In the fall
of 1978, Williams became the first fine artist to be accepted by
the Arkansas Arts Council into an apprenticeship program funded
by the Civil Education and Training Administration. He was to take
on an apprentice between the ages of 16 and 21 who would help with
his projects while learning employable skills. As a sculptor, Williams
passed on his expertise in welding, fiberglass, plastics and vinyl,
he worked as a chef at the Town Club, a "very colorful"
place frequented by the Tyson's, Levon Helm and Gov. Bill Clinton,
1979, the Arts Council sponsored a competition for public works
to be installed around the state. Williams submitted a winning design
for a grotto to be constructed just west of the castle.
the parks board was more interested in sprucing up a spring house
located where the castle now stands. The concrete structure was
an eyesore, and the spring flowing from it was clogged with weeds
and watercress, Williams said.
gave him two weeks to submit an alternate proposal.
the spring house was used by kids as a fort, Williams developed
the idea of the castle surrounded by a sculpture garden. In May
1979, he submitted the second proposal, and the board went for it,
behind the design, which was influenced by Art Nouveau architect
Antoni Gaudi, was to create an architectural relic like what might
be seen in Europe or Asia, Williams said. "The city could just
cut the grass, and that was it, so it had to be durable," he
said. "If it was not maintained, I wanted it to have the sense
of being a relic as it returned to nature."
the project broke ground. Williams and a crew of five kids working
for minimum wage set out with the goal of completing the castle
in three to four months. The goal was unrealistic, but they continued
to receive funds as long as progress was being made and the kids
were learning employable skills.
the year of construction, about 25 to 30 apprentices came and went.
Difficult labor for minimum wage was not attractive for long, Williams
explained, and several kids returned to school, moved or entered
the armed services.
1980, the foundation and low rock work were completed, and the castle
was taking shape. A mild winter helped speed the process. On rainy
days, the crew worked in Williams' studio on the castle's support
columns, tower roof, lamps and floor tiles.
a funding deadline of June 1 was imposed. They pressed on, completing
as much as possible, with a few people staying on for a week or
two of no pay after the deadline passed.
the project remains unfinished. Although a grand opening took place
July 20, 1980, his plans for landscaping and two bronze sculptures
had to be dropped. He hopes to secure funding for the sculptures
in the future, he said.
Now an internationally
acclaimed artist, Williams lived in Houston from 1981 to 1993 before
moving to Russia. He first visited the country in 1992 when his
wife, a lawyer, went there with an exchange program. He immediately
met fellow artists and was offered a sponsorship by a local factory
to do bronze casting there. "In Europe and Russia, artists
are treated with respect," Williams said. "You're a professional,
something special there."
has studio space at an art school in Moscow where he teaches. In
addition to sculpture, he paints, draws, builds furniture, takes
photographs and creates digital artwork.
the castle, he begins each piece with a visual and thematic concept
and develops it during the creation process, he said. "I'm
always experimenting," he said. "I go in with a basic
concept and work it out until I'm satisfied. I know when it's time
work has been shown in personal exhibits in more than 25 Russian
museums and galleries as well as several international venues and
in Houston, New Orleans, New York and other major U.S. cities. In
1996, he became the first contemporary American artist to have a
solo show at the Russian State Museum of St. Petersburg.
address delivered 17 September, 2005 for 25th anniversary celebration
ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, 2005
returns to celebrate 25th anniversary of Wilson Park castle, BY
Community Celebrate 'Point 7', BY AMY M. COTHAM