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Sheet Metal

Metal art in Kansas fields

By Russ Olexa

July 2010- In rural Kansas, where the flat farmland goes on for miles, there's not much to see, so some Kansans have built their own roadside attractions to bring some visual appeal to the state.

They take many forms, such as metallic windmills, dragons and unique signs. Drivers may see metal-skeleton circus performers, triangular-shaped witches, an old motorcycle driven by a Batman likeness and repurposed farm equipment made to look like dinosaurs. Even vehicles that have passed their usability are recreated, along with other more exotic, hard-to-describe forms.

In fact, Goodland, Kan., has an 80-ft. metal sculpture depiction of Vincent Van Gogh's "Three Sunflowers in a Vase" painting.

Who are these artists who weld up the odd pieces of sheet metal? Many are farmers who have extra time on their hands. Others just want to express their creativity. Most are self-taught metalworkers who build and display their work by the roadside to catch the passerby's eye and elicit a chuckle. Among Kansas artists is M.T. Liggett, who makes sheet metal art in Mullinville, Kan., and displays it along his property's roadside. Another, Jerry Hubbell, a real estate agent and rancher, creates welded metal sculptures he calls "Hubble Rubble"from old farm equipment and scrap.

They and others have caught the eye of many motorists, creating curiosity and generating interest in their work, including a write-up this year in The Wall Street Journal.

Free-range sculpture
Kansas artist Jim Dickerman, Beverly, Kan., enjoys working with metal, wood, bones and just about anything that will allow him to express his creativity. He's especially noted for his unusual masks. What Dickerman calls the Open Range Zoo, along the highways of Lincoln County, displays roughly 30 welded metal creatures he created. He uses it to promote his Soaring Heart Galleryart studio near Beverly, Kan.

"I've always been a welder," he says. "When you're around a small farm community, jobs aren't too plentiful. If I didn't want to pump gas, welding jobs were always around, and I got certified back in the 1980s. I'm a jack-of-all-trades-and-a-master-of-none kind of guy. I'll use oxy/acetylene for welding and cutting, along with a cutting wheel on a grinder.

"If I see pieces of metal that look like body parts, I'll put them together. Once they're together, they tell a bit of a story. You might find a brand new muffler on the highway, so you wonder what the story was behind it getting there, and I'll use it for my art." FFJ

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