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Geek Road Trip: Evermor, the steampunk sculpture park ascending to TV immortality
Whether you're looking for a transcendent sci-fi experience or just simply need a convenient rest stop on a road trip through the northern Midwest, you should have Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park, an intergalactic time-traveling spaceship that weighs nearly half a million pounds, circled on your map.
Home to scrap metal sculptures that were steampunk years before the word was coined, Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park is in Sumpter, Wisconsin, an hour's drive northwest of Madison. Sumpter is roughly halfway between Chicago and Minneapolis, making it a nice stopping point for road trippers traveling between those cities.
I visited Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park on one such trip. Horns, pipes, large springs, metal milk jugs, car parts, and factory machinery combine to become gigantic cherries, spaceships, bridges, gazebos, unidentifiable creatures, and orchestras of instrument-playing birds and frogs.
Popular with Wisconsin locals, Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park has also had moments of national and international exposure over the years: a Guinness Book of World Records award for largest scrap metal sculpture (since lost to a sculpture in North Dakota), coverage in The Guardian, PBS, Slate, BoingBoing, Atlas Obscura, and Refinery29, and a visit from the American Pickers TV show in 2013.
Still, Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park isn't seen as national point of interest. That will change if Tya Kottler, Dr. Evermor's daughter, has her way. Kottler is working with a professional team to turn Dr. Evermor's art into a sci-fi TV show titled Evermor.
Turning a sculpture park into a TV show might sound odd, but it feels perfectly natural to those familiar with stories Dr. Evermor, born Tom Every, created to accompany his sculptures. Every worked in industrial salvage, which allowed him to contemplate wreckage that wouldn't be reused and learn how to dismantle machinery. He began sculpting to repurpose materials that would otherwise disappear.
In 1983, Every began building the largest sculpture in the park, called "Forevertron." At that time, he assumed the alter ego of "Dr. Evermor" and anointed his wife "Lady Eleanor." With Every's storytelling, his sculptures weren't just a salvage worker's tinkering; they became otherworldly. Dr. Evermor, a Victorian-era British professor, labored over the Forevertron, a spaceship powered by "level 7 love energy" that would one day shoot him into Heaven. With time, Every developed fantastical stories with a spiritual bent around many of his sculptures.
SYFY WIRE recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Evermor and his daughter over the phone. Dr. Evermor is in hospice, and his health is fragile. Due to health problems, he hasn't worked in the sculpture park for three years, though he seemed eager to discuss it.
Although Every never legally changed his name, he explained that the Dr. Evermor moniker became "a permanent thing" over time. The staff of the facility in which he stays say, "Good morning, Doc!" every day, and his own children call him "Doc" as often as they do "Dad." I've called him "Dr. Evermor" in this article to oblige his wishes.
For those wondering, Dr. Evermor doesn't take his Forevertron story literally. He doesn't expect his sculpture to launch him into Heaven. In fact, the Forevertron isn't even his favorite sculpture. He prefers The Epicurean, an older 32-foot-long sculpture that doubles as a working barbecue grill. Visitors to the 1977 Madison Art Fair could purchase burgers fried on The Epicurean, and Wollersheim Winery has also used it to cook food at events.
Dr. Evermor cited Thayer Lutz, an early friend who'd moved to the Gulf Coast, as one of his artistic inspirations. A bit of internet sleuthing uncovered that Lutz decorated the interior of a Mississippi restaurant called Annie's in 1960 "with copper barrels from breweries and copper cheese vats from dairies in the Midwest."
Some of the notable raw materials Dr. Evermor has transformed into sculpture include missiles decommissioned by the U.S. Army, dynamos built by Edison, and a decontamination chamber from the NASA Apollo mission. Dr. Evermor snagged the last item through a friend who worked at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The university acquired the chamber for research, but it wasn't working for their purposes, so they gave it to him.
Dr. Evermor didn't begin the sculpture park until her teen years, but Kottler, his daughter, says his creativity permeated their household from the start. Kottler recalls their dining room table was a marble slab held up by a claw-foot base; their kitchen had copper countertops and intricately designed details.
With Dr. Evermor's health deteriorating, his wife and children contemplate the future of the sculpture park. For decades, Dr. Evermor told fantastical stories through industrial art. His family wants more people to enjoy his art and hear his stories.
Erik Figi, a writer for the Evermor TV show and a Wisconsin native, told SYFY WIRE about his chance encounter with the Dr. Evermor story. Figi studied film writing as a University of Wisconsin-Madison communications major years ago, but ended up joining the military. In 2016, after years of living out of state, Figi decided to return to Wisconsin. His bank randomly assigned him a realtor.
That realtor was Tya Kottler.
When Kottler found out Figi was a writer, she showed him a photo of the Forevertron. He immediately recognized it from a high school visit to the sculpture park. The idea of Evermor was born.
Figi brought young adult author Perry Covington onboard to co-write. With showrunner Andrew Cosby (co-creator of Eureka and screenwriter of the Hellboy reboot) and entertainment company Legion M behind them, the team is pitching outlets and feels optimistic. In Figi's pitch, Cosby describes Evermor as "a love letter to high concept science fiction" and says to "Think Stranger Things for Steven Spielberg instead of Stephen King."
Evermor contains many of Dr. Evermor's original story details but has been updated to fit diverse audiences. Instead of launching people into Heaven, the Forevertron launches into the multiverse. Also, Dr. Evermor? In the TV show, she's an eccentric woman named Catherine.
The TV show has a ways to go before it hits screens, but The World of Evermor sculpture park is still there, in Wisconsin, providing sci-fi fans with an opportunity to enjoy otherworldly art and a glimpse inside the mind of an obscure sci-fi storyteller. For geeks on a road trip, it might be worth a pit stop to familiarize yourselves with the fantastical world of Evermor before it becomes a household name.