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By Jodi Schwan
If you’ve seen the bronze presidential statues in downtown Rapid City, then you’ve likely seen the work of artist John Lopez.
But after sculpting a dozen former presidents and three former governors in Pierre, Lopez got a little burned out.
“It’s a long, drawn-out process,” he explained.
Lopez, who graduated from high school in Aberdeen followed by Black Hills State University, was drawn instead to working with scrap metal.
After his aunt died, his uncle built a cemetery on the family ranch. Lopez created a gate topped with an angel out of scrap metal.
It turned out so well he decided to try a horse.
“And it totally took off,” he said. “People really started responding to these sculptures.”
Something clicked in the sculptor, too.
“These scrap iron pieces just came together so well. They just seemed to work themselves out, and it works with my brain because I can build a piece from the inside out,” Lopez said. “It’s something that fits me, and it really was like a new discovery when I started doing them.”
Fast-forward several years to this week, when Lopez will open a gallery in Lemmon, which is in northwestern South Dakota along the border with North Dakota.
Lemmon – population 1,240 according to recent estimates – sits on the west end of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which also is home to one of Lopez’s famous sculptures, “The Last Stand.”
“It’s two buffalo bulls fighting and within them … I’m trying to mix my two art styles — bronze portrait and scrap iron — and this piece really takes the two and merges them,” he said.
True to the repurposed nature of his work, he has turned a water-damaged bar, the Kokomo Inn, into a gallery featuring his work and that of other artists.
“You won’t be expecting what you see when you come into the gallery,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got an art exhibit. Two Nigerian painters who come every year have an art show set up here now, and it’s paintings they have done of Indian chiefs from Standing Rock and some chiefs from the Nigerian area, so it’s like two cultures.”
The artists, “have sold a lot of paintings, which is really crazy to me,” he added.
But he has done a good job getting the word out digitally. John Lopez Sculptures has almost 15,000 followers on Facebook. It allows him to sell work online and has prompted some road trips to Lemmon from art-seekers, he said.
Kokomo Inn includes an outdoor sculpture garden and will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free.
Sourcing scrap iron from area farms and ranches, artist John Lopez has created a collection that debuts in a gallery this week.