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Farmer's sculpture provides a glimpse of God

ELBOW LAKE, Minn. -- There are often glimpses of the quiet spiritual expressions of farmers in the Upper Midwest. One image that suggests Easter is on a farmstead two miles north of Elbow Lake, Minn.

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In the early 2000s, retired farmer and sculptor Allen Bakke of Elbow Lake, Minn., had built the head of a Jesus Christ sculpture that he expected would stand some 40 feet tall. It was too unwieldy, so he built a 20-foot piece that was made of mesh, and lighter-weight. Photo taken March 8, 2018, at Elbow Lake, Minn. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

ELBOW LAKE, Minn. - There are often glimpses of the quiet spiritual expressions of farmers in the Upper Midwest. One image that suggests Easter is on a farmstead two miles north of Elbow Lake, Minn.

The sculpture garden is the eye-catching legacy of Allen Bakke, who farmed until he became ill with cancer, and then spent his twilight years building images of importance in his life. The site is just to the west of Grant County Highway 20.

Bakke died of lung cancer on June 13, 2013, at age 72, but his family remembers him as an artist of steel and cement. Allen took drafting classes at North Dakota State College of Science and enlisted in the Air Force for four years before farming. He was a member of United Lutheran Church in Elbow Lake. His wife, Sharon, died in 2009.

His son, Arvid Bakke, of Alexandria, Minn., says Allen completed about 30 sculpture pieces. He built many of the sculptures in the farm out-buildings. Other sculptures included animals - especially eagles. He was known for a sculpture of a troll that was designed for Flekkefest, a Norwegian cultural celebration at Elbow Lake. The statues often were covered with colored stucco-style concrete.

Allen worked two years on his final piece - a 20-foot-tall statue of Jesus Christ, which stands on a grain bin foundation, next to an existing grain bin. The piece is visible for more than a mile along the highway. He made it of mesh, so the wind can blow through it. He had to hire a fellow with a crane to stand it up.

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Nearby is a five-foot-tall head, also of Jesus, which Allen completed in the 1990s. He'd hoped to make that a full-sized sculpture, but it was too heavy and he became too sick.

"It was pretty much close to his heart," Arvid says, but acknowledged his father didn't talk much about his motivations.

Bakke's first major sculpture - the Virgin Mary, is a 22-foot concrete statue which stands in the hills of Leaf Mountain Township near Millerville, in Douglas County, Minn. The project was commissioned by Bill Danelke, a Catholic, who as a young man had been cured of cancer after praying to the Virgin Mary for healing. According to the county historical society, Danelke commissioned Allen and Lyle Alvstad of Ashby, Minn., to complete the statue. It was dedicated in 1993.

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