As the saying goes, “I may not know a lot about art, but I know what I like.” Munising, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula may not have a reputation for public art, but it does have one of the largest public art installations in the state, a short drive west into Chocolay Township. A friend had suggested going to a place called Lakenenland to see “some sculptures.” It was one of those days where there wasn’t much going on, so we all piled into our cars (social distancing has made ride sharing a thing of the past) and headed for Lakenenland.
Michiganders, especially those in the UP have a sense of humor and like to mess with the tourists from time to time. On the way to Lakenenland we spotted a sign that said “Lakenenland Junk Yard Art” and made an abrupt turn (the kind of maneuver I call “Bat Turns”) that caused much consternation with the motorists behind us. Once our blood pressure returned to normal, we realized we were punked into a junkyard lot. A little further down the road we arrived at the real deal. Lakenenland is a one-man art installation of metal sculpture born from the whimsical mind of welder Tom Lakenen. In an interview he said he started making the sculptures in his yard “about 20 years ago for something to do after I quit drinking.” His first sculpture was a group of dancing wolves made in his front yard. “No one threw eggs at it, so I built another one.” Eventually there were 20 sculptures in his front yard and the Township cited him for improper signage. To compromise he moved the sculptures to his back yard. The township continued to lodge various zoning complaints over the years. Tired of the frustrations, Tom investigated some old logging property and purchased what is now Lakenenland in 2003. Unfortunately legal scuffles about the park, its zoning and signage continued for years until he was rescued by a group of snowmobilers sympathetic to his cause. One of the snowmobilers happened to be a lawyer. The lawyer managed to finagle a legal technicality with the deed on the property to eliminate the zoning requirements, and Lakenenland grew into its present state. Tom tells this story himself in a Story Corps recording from the Northern Michigan University WNMU-FM website.
The park is most definitely worth a trip if you’re in the area. It’s open 24-7, 365 days a year. There is no admission fee, ever. It’s possible to drive through the park to view the sculptures, a good fit for our group as several people have mobility difficulties. If you can I highly recommend getting out and walking the park. While the cars drove slowly around the installations I walked behind and inspected them up close. I attached a slide show so you can see for yourself. The number of creations is a testimony to a man who is driven to create. He mentioned that he was looking for something to do as he recovered from alcoholism. I wonder if he ever considered his welding work as an artistic outlet prior to his sobriety. I’ve always thought of those who work in the trades as craftspeople; gifted with seeing the world in three dimensions and a feel for the material world—not material in the Madonna sense but the world of metal, wood, fabric and polymer. Perhaps his dive into creating art happened not just as a time filler but because of a release of a relentless creative spirit. Either way, we all benefit from the gift. Enjoy the slide show! Below the slide show you’ll find some links to his web site and other information about Lakenenland, including a link to a donation site.
This GoFundMe site was started in 2016 by Tom’s stepson Jim Klumb. Jim Writes:
He [Tom] now has over 80 metal sculptures that he has built and continues to build as well as working construction as a welder for the Boilermakers, to make a living for our family and finance the park.
Lakenenland will always be a free of charge park year round. It is NOT a non-profit organization, it is solely supported and maintained by Tom year round. The Lakenens have graciously let multiple charitable events take place at Lakenenland benefiting the Women Center, Salvation Army, and music for all kids. In the winter if he’s laid off, you will find him there on the weekends with a bonfire, hot chocolate, and coffee for the snowmobilers on trail 417 or anyone who stops by.
The most recent donation to the site was a month ago, the fundraiser is still active.