The Road Less Traveled




Artist Dates



image preview

Date of Work

ca. 1976


35mm slide, digitized 2020


James Smith Pierce Collection: Folk and Outsider Image Collection




UND Art Collections Repository

Artist Bio

Born in Brooklyn, New York, James Smith Pierce received his PhD in art history from Harvard University. During his career as a professor, Pierce also became an accomplished artist, whose artworks were included in important exhibitions (including a show on land art at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and books on contemporary earthworks and site-specific sculpture. Pierce was also a photographer, exhibition curator, and art collector.

Additional Information

Louis Charles Wippich (1896-1973) was, by all accounts, an oddity. Heavily influenced by Theosophy, an esoteric religion based on Buddhism, Wippich’s rock garden, The Molehill, was built as a refuge to return to in his next life. His work for the Great Northern Railroad brought him across the country, and the sights and mountains of the American West inspired many of the features of his rock garden. He worked for decades, often with the help of neighborhood kids, to build what he believed would be a playground for his next life, when he would be reincarnated as a blackbird. His neighbors remember him as a bizarre yet fun character, who enjoyed hosting visitors and carried a sense of humor with him at all times.

His unconventional nature was met by pragmatic enginuity in sourcing materials for his garden. Located in Sauk Rapids, Wippich made use of rejects from nearby quarries, castaway supplies from his job at the railroad, as well as other places to get supplies for the garden. The distinctive red granite used in many of the structures was acquired during the destruction of a bank in nearby St. Cloud. Not all the materials were free, causing Wippich to at one point rent out his house, and live in his garage in order to get more money for his garden. The garden fell into disrepair following his death, but has since been restored and cared for by the current owners. Though the garden is not open to the public, it is possible to visit by appointment.

This image shows another view of the tower in Wippich’s garden. When the bank was being torn down, Wippich hired as many local teenagers as he could in order to get as much of the free granite as possible. The granite would become a part of this tower as well as several other features of his garden.

Image is provided for educational purposes only. © University of North Dakota. All rights reserved.

Condition Notes

35mm slide in excellent condition.


Image Location