Scrap Iron Sculpture

Rural Kansas man makes yard art from scrap iron.

John Scott doesn't paint his sculptures

John Scott doesn't paint his sculptures. The rust tones, he said, "bring out the shadows and light better." The rich brown is reminiscent of bronze used in more traditional sculptures.

Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.

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For most people, "Turkey Day" comes once a year. For a rural Kansas man, though, it's just another day at the office. John Scott, Bunker Hill, Kan., crafts yard art from scrap iron. His top seller? A turkey, made from tractor seats and the working end of a pitchfork.

"I've probably made 300 of them," he said.

The turkey joins a variety of other critters - egrets, frogs, turtles, grasshoppers, crickets, snails, roosters, pheasants, even Jayhawks - that John sells nationwide. It is a lucrative business for a man who's worked in the scrap metal recycling business (both as a dealer and a craftsman) for the past 10 years.

"Half of my income comes from the sculptures," he said. "And with the price of scrap dropping to $35 a ton (from $75 a ton) in the last four months, that really makes me appreciate what I can make from them."

Now a significant part of his livelihood, the yard art began as little more than a hobby.

"I met this fellow in a tavern," he said. "He was really kind of a hobo, but he said he was a sculptor. Well, I thought he meant clay, but no, he works with scrap metal. I had always dabbled with scrap iron, and the more we talked, the more interested I got. So I brought him home with me and handed him the welder. Well, as I watched, I couldn't wait for him to lay that welder down."

John was hooked.

"It just comes as natural as anything I'd ever done," he said.

Now it's nearly an all-consuming job.

"I'm so busy, I don't even have time to create something new," he said. He's been invited to participate in an internet site where he could sell his work, but he passed up the offer.

"That would be kind of scary," he said. "I'm already making just about all I can make."

He has no shortage of raw material to work with.

"It takes three seats for every turkey," he said. "You wouldn't think there'd be that many seats in the country. But I'm continually going to farm sales, buying that scrap iron. I've probably bought 300 or 400 seats from one guy."

And when he eyes an old piece of equipment or machinery, nothing's sacred.

"Oh, I cut up lots of stuff that probably shouldn't be cut up," he said. "The old machinery collectors probably hate guys like me. But I do save some of it for the collectors. They'll come out here and just jump into my scrap pile. It's an interesting business ... you just shouldn't throw nothing away."

John likes the patina of rust, so he does not paint his sculptures.

"And there's not a whole lot of clean-up," he said. "I just go over the metal with a wire brush, and brush away whatever's loose. I don't do any sandblasting. And then I just put on a coat of clear lacquer (which needs to be reapplied periodically if the sculpture sits outside)."

It's work he enjoys, and work that pays the bills, but it's not necessarily work he wants to do forever. With any luck, his craft will endure.

"I have thought about quitting," he said. "I'd like to teach somebody how to carry this on." FC 

For more information: John Scott, PO Box 2, Bunker Hill, Kan., 67626; (785) 483-6615.