H.P. Pederson, Gas station and rock garden sculptures
Relocated (incl. Museums)
Arco, Minnesota, 56113, United States
About the Artist/Site
H.P. Pedersen farmed for most of his life. He traveled when he wasn’t working and developed a hobby making things out of rocks. He started small, building ashtrays made of rocks and wire or bookends. He’d break rocks with a sledge hammer and join them together in various ways.
In 1936, he bought a Texaco gas station in the small Minnesota town of Arco (current population: around 75). He ran it with his wife, Ricka, and their two sons M.M. and Vernon. Pedersen, who had amassed a rock collection from travels west and from rocks he found while plowing, decided to put his rocks to good use. Shortly after the Pedersens moved in, he began covering his new gas station with rocks from nearby fields and from his personal stash, integrating stars from the Texaco logo in his station’s façade. Soon after, he began building numerous rock sculptures, some of which still stand today in the whimsical rock garden that was the station’s yard. With over 35 sculptures, including a pheasant, a hummingbird, a snake figure, a Viking ship, a Dutch windmill, and a lighthouse, their gas station became a public art attraction. The largest piece Pedersen built was a seven-foot-tall, one- thousand-pound Statue of Liberty figure that took nearly 200 hours to complete. The torch was wired for electricity and lit up when it was plugged in.
Behind the rock-covered gas station, Pedersen also built a miniature village and farm, comprised of a house, barn, stores, a church, a grain elevator, a depot with a train, and paths winding through the village. He even included a castle on a little hill, sited as if overlooking the village. Children would walk through the miniature world as if it were their own. To the east of the gas station was a rock-decorated arched gate that was surmounted by a pelican sculpture. Next to the gate was a domed structure, with a sign reading “Visitors Register Here.” Inside was a guest book, which featured 227 pages filled with names, including the infamous bandleader and television personality Lawrence Welk. 1949 was a record year, as 4,000 people were recorded as visitors to the rock garden.
Pedersen himself was a man of many talents. He not only was a potato farmer turned sculptor, but a musician who played the clarinet, flute, violin, and drums. When he died in the late 1940s, he left his garden standing. His son Vernon took over for a few years, but then relocated to Iowa. It was then that the rock garden was dismantled. Nevertheless, today Pedersen’s legacy lives on. The gas station remains covered in rocks but has been converted to a private residence, and several of the sculptures, (including the Statue of Liberty, a ram figure named Hugo, the Liberty Bell, and the Dutch windmill) were moved to a campground a few miles outside of Arco. Both sites are free and open to the public and still receive visitors each year.
~Emily Betts Susanin
Map & Site Information
Arco, Minnesota, 56113 us
Latitude/Longitude: 44.383576 / -96.183648
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