Folks who know me are aware of my modest collection of yard art, mostly metal pieces found in my meanderings around the US.
I have long been disappointed that most of what I find is not made in the US. The popular place of origin is Mexico and, according to folks in the trade, there are four or five outfits down there churning out the same old stuff.
I always hope, when I pull up to a promisingly junk-filled store or browse through the booths at small-town events and fairs, that I will find yard art that’s actually made by the person doing the selling and that I will see pieces that do not look like the stuff I saw a couple hundred miles ago.
So when I stopped at the Bell Tower Festival on the square in tiny Jefferson, Iowa, early this summer I was pleasantly surprised.
I was traveling the old Lincoln Highway, which bisects Jefferson, tracing a path through the square, around the Greene County Courthouse and the 168-foot Mahanay Memorial Bell Tower, named for Floyd Mahanay, a philanthropist and former resident.
Instead of following the detour signs around the festival I kept going straight and parked in front of a temporary barrier blocking vehicle access to the square and set off on foot.
And there, in the shadow of the bell tower and next to the local radio station DJ’s red van and tent, was a colorful display of metal yard art. Promising, I thought, as I looked it over.
I saw immediately that this wasn’t the familiar collection of welded pieces of sheet metal bent to look like birds or pigs or cows or whatever, imported from Mexico.
These were brilliantly colored and very imaginative sculptures, all made out of hand tools, garden implements and other recognizable metal castoffs. Wonderful stuff!
And, as I quickly realized while chatting with the proprietor, Mike Prince, IT WAS ALL MADE IN THE USA! Mike’s been making this stuff for only a year or so and told me his main problem is finding old shovel heads, rakes and other stuff, his raw material.
He lives in nearby, and even tinier, Churdan (population 376 in 2014, one person fewer than back in 1890). I can think of worse things to do with one’s time than spend it creatively repurposing discarded tools, and farm and garden implements into yard art and home decor. Visit his Facebook page and offer him some encouragement. I didn’t find out if he does much mail order or internet business, but it’s worth asking.
I’ll let the photos I took of his products speak to the creativity of his work. There’s plenty more on his page too. This first one, the pink butterfly made from horseshoes, is what I bought the day of my visit. (All photos copyright Ron Haines)