April 2020 Archives

The Strange Genius of Dr. Evermor

On Monday, March 30th, one of Wisconsin's great strange geniuses passed away in a nursing home in Sauk City, the prodigious metal sculptor Tom Every, aka Dr. Evermor.  To any lover of "naive" or "outsider" art, Dr. Evermor's park on the road from Sauk City to Baraboo was one of the absolute pinnacles.  In celebration and remembrance of the good doctor, I present this series of prose poems I wrote after discovering his work and location almost exactly 20 years ago.  Taking artistic license, I cobbled the poem together from a couple of different visits, but every detail is otherwise just as it happened at the time.  The springtime framework, so poignant in our current spring of pandemic, accurately conveys the seasonal mood of our first visit in April 2000.  For a generous appreciation with photographs of Dr. Evermor's wondrous creations, go to https://madison.com/wsj/business/dr-evermor-a-metal-artist-character-and-wisconsin-gem-dies-at-the-age-of-81/article_7a5f9362-c9c1-5d7c-aac3-57eaf414dd18.html?fbclid=IwAR2zoLb-otMBq6P2L_pLcZPkR5S3EPiSlksd0Cx97VYyIew84Rqx0.

(You can find a delightful memorial video featuring footage of Dr. Evermor and Lady Eleanor Every by Mike Hazard at https://youtu.be/9br9cjCZx1o)


     EVERLAND

The invincible shield of caring
is a weapon from the sky against being dead.
--Lao Tzu (trans. Witter Bynner)

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think.
--Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks)

Power on.
--Dr. Evermor

    Invincible Shield

Early April, the land beneath rain and sun raw as our newly laid-bare feelings after winter.  Driving south from Baraboo on US 12, we see to the east, close by the Wisconsin River, the decommissioned Badger Ordnance plant.  West of the highway, giant metal -- bugs! -- gangly, brightly painted -- stride the ditches.  A twenty-foot-high iron heart skewered by an ornate arrow calls to mind Lao Tzu's "invincible shield of caring."  We leave the car among spring-fountaining trees near a sign announcing Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park.

    Around the Bend

Up ahead scrap-heaps flank the dirt road, glimmer among delicate young leaves.  On the path into Dr. Evermor's populous, constructed world, inquisitive presences press from all sides, from bushes, from the deep, dead grass: Hundreds, maybe thousands of metal creatures -- whiskered, horned, beaked, wing├Ęd, pincered, finned -- motionless yet quick with whimsical personality, exude no menace, only playfulness, not an army but an eccentric village, welcoming winter-worn travelers into the light.

    Forevertron

It all radiates out from the Forevertron -- four hundred tons of soaring, sprawling, baroque engineering, part carnival midway, part Victorian science fiction, part Gaudian excess, spiral-staircasing, telescoping Machine Age collage, according to Dr. Evermor's writings an earth-sky harmonizer, bad karma neutralizer, the elegant copper-encased glass egg above the Tesla coils designed to one day "perpetuate" its creator "back into the heavens."

    The Doctor Is In

Near a welding station, a speaker hoisted on a pole pipes circus music.  A hammer taps rhythmically nearby in April air peppery with spray paint.  Drifting out past the Forevertron, constellations of sculptures all sizes: impish crab and lobster hugging the ground, dueling swordfish, flies huge as helicopters, towering birds with steel-guitar bodies.  A smiling woman introduces herself as Lady Eleanor Every.  "The Doctor enjoys meeting visitors.  Stop and say hello!"

    Fox

While Krista chats with Lady Eleanor I venture into Dr. Evermor's rusted minibus office.  He's talking loudly with a younger man in coveralls.  It's as though a fox has spotted me from his lair!  There's an atmosphere of conspiracy, of plotting some friendly mischief for the world over a bag of chips.  A cat on the sun-splashed caramel-colored seat is in on this too.  "We're having a discussion," the Doctor tells me.  "Sit down and shut up until we finish."  He adds, "Then we'll get to your problem!"

    Jails

Dr. Evermor looks dapper in his purple shirt and silk ascot.  His golden belt buckle is shaped like a scallop shell.  Deep vertical brow-furrows, a head of dark, thick hair, blunt, inquisitive nose.  A life dealing in scrap has knit an ironic shrewdness above his eyes, which droop like Neruda's.  What kind of doctor is he anyway?  Maybe an Industrial Metaphysician?  He sketches loosely in a notebook on his lap, plans to cut up some old jails he bought in Illinois.  "Why jails?"  "Because I hate jails!"

    Salvage

Tom Every got his start in the scrap business at age eleven.  In his forties, through with demolition, he began his monumental life's work of reclamation.  Call it art or what you will, his genius for animating the cast-off and obsolete attracted attention, some of it unwanted as when pornographers attempted a photo shoot in front of the Forevertron (he ran them off).  And by the way, has he mentioned that the Bird Band, built with old musical instruments, comes alive and plays on nights of the full moon?

    Names

Finally the Doctor turns his curiosity toward me.  "What's your name?"  I tell him.  "Bullshit," he snorts.  That unnerves me, as if I've been caught using a fake ID.  Could a name also be a kind of jail?  This man salvaged his "Tom" and built from it "Dr. Evermor."  And what about this "problem" of mine he's mentioned?  Does he just mean that I'm past fifty, and it's springtime?  The Doctor notices my abashed silence, and softens his look.  He fixes kindly, sad sea-turtle eyes on me, and asks, "Are you happy?"

    Heavenly Hope

During World War II, the federal government uprooted generations-old farms on prime land to build the munitions factory; some say the community never recovered.  Dr. Evermor has devised a plan to heal that long-standing wound by moving the Forevertron, his monumental peace generator, across the highway to the site of Badger's old compressor plant.  He's a romantic, a Parsifal with a welding torch, dreams of powering the modern-day wasteland back to bloom.

    Time-Binder

Dr. Evermor hates things that imprison imagination -- like television and alcohol -- and grieves the loss of craft-work in the modern world.  "I think of all these" -- his sweeping gesture takes in the whole of Everland -- "as time-binding devices."  Nineteenth-century ironwork is especially beautiful to him.  He brings in semi-loads of dead farm machinery each week.  He points proudly to a culvert-sized cylinder.  "The aerospace industry paid a million bucks for that, but I got it for a hundred."

    Salt

The Sufis tell this story: A teacher mixes a handful of salt in a jar of water and asks his student, "How does it taste?"  "Bitter!"  Then he throws an equal amount of salt in a lake and bids his student drink.  "And how does that taste?"  "Sweet!"  The master says, "The salt is human pain.  Every life has the same quantity.  To surmount your pain, be a lake, not a jar."  Sitting here I sense how the work creates the man, makes the Doctor himself the medicine -- makes him a lake, or even an ocean.

    Heart of Hearts

We've been here two hours.  It's time to go.  Leaving, we admire up close the giant metal heart, its left ventricle open as Dr. Evermor says hearts should be.  It leans, hearts being easily pushed over.  I'm still not sure what my "problem" is, but I do feel happier.  The Heart of Hearts aims its love-arrow across Highway 12 at wounded Badger from some place in ourselves we long for and often sense just out of view of the roads we travel, new leaves sparking through trees as earth tilts into another spring.

(Reprinted from Windy Day at Kabekona: New and Selected Prose Poems, White Pine Press, 2018.  Copyright 2018 Thomas R. Smith.)