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Hastings artist Dale Lewis takes his metal sculptures on the road

Dale Lewis’ newest creation will feature a pig as the pilot. Star Gazette photo by Lydia Birt

Choosing to live as an artist came late in life for Hastings resident Dale Lewis.

“I’m 58 and I finally I figured out what I want to do when I grow up,” he said.

Lewis has been an artist for only seven years, but his works are proof that all you need to create art are time and talent. Before experimenting with art, Lewis and his wife, Carol, rehabilitated houses until the market collapsed in 2006. He had already retired and found himself with enough time on his hands for a hobby. His first pieces were mosaics made from hand-me-down materials given to him by his sister, who was also an artist. Lewis first designed a six-foot-tall mosaic giraffe, which led to many other nature-inspired creations.

“Nobody knows where I get inspiration, including me, but I usually find it in something little,” Lewis said.

However small the inspiration, he prefers to make larger pieces to challenge himself while in the design process. After finding how much he enjoyed making mosaics, Lewis bought a welder and began to test his skill with stainless steel. He discovered that working with metal took about half the amount of labor that mosaics took, so most of newest creations are made from metal scraps.

He makes his artwork in his home just outside of Hastings near Vermillion. Most of his mosaics and metal sculptures are animals or plants, some enlarged for effect and some featuring intricate details.

“I can whip out about 20 small butterflies in a day,” Lewis said. “But a bigger project like the Trojan Horse could take longer.”

Lewis’ Trojan Horse was one piece that he photographically documented while building and posted on his online photo gallery at http://picasa The horse was displayed at the Zywiec’s Landscape and Garden Center in Cottage Grove, and is now featured at the Sioux Falls (S.D) SculptureWalk. Lewis has become increasingly involved in outdoor galleries ever since his display at the Orange Dragon Art Gallery in Prescott, Wis. In addition to the Sioux Falls SculptureWalk, his artwork has also been shown at the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour in Mankato, the Bemidji Sculpture Walk and the Eau Claire (Wis.) Sculpture Tour. Lewis said his goal is always to display his art and not necessarily to sell it.

“I don’t care so much now about what people think about (my art) as long as I’m OK with it,” Lewis said. “There’s no turning back now. If my art doesn’t sell, I’ll still have to make it.”

Lewis and his wife both enjoy the sculpture walks, but the three-day weekends they demand in the spring make advertising and displaying his art a time-consuming task, he said.

“It’s a great way to meet other artists,” Lewis said. “Plus, if your piece wins the most popular vote, the city buys it.”

Lewis had once entered a small deer made entirely of spoons, titled “Oh Dear,” that was not only bought by a patron, but had also won the most popular vote and was bought by the city. Luckily, he had already made two of the spoon Bambis and was able to supply the demand.

It’s pretty easy to see Lewis coming and going in the area. His vehicle has a big alligator strapped to its roof and a monkey attached to the grill.

His artwork usually involves some sort of cutlery welded together, but Lewis can use almost any kind of metals or materials he finds. He recently finished a caterpillar creation that was made out of a large brush-like object found on the side of the road by a friend.

“People either give me things or I dumpster-dive in junkyards for salvageable materials,” Lewis said. Because of the random way he acquires his materials, his projects often end up a little random themselves. One such project was a mosaic chess set that he designed for the Poet Artist Collaboration XI in 2012 organized in Zumbrota. Artists in the area can read through a selection of 26 poems and choose one that inspires them to create artwork. Lewis unknowingly chose a 12-year-girl’s poem called “Chess” and designed an entire set with unique metal pieces, including kings and queens with faces and formidable castles.

“I like having the freedom to decide what I’m going to make,” Lewis said. “I’m just a big kid playing with metal.”

Another random creation is a usable grill inspired by skewer grills from China. Lewis built the body of a two-headed dog around the grill, and has been actively using it around his house for two years. The metal pieces have held up well even in the elements.

“Metal sculptures are better than mosaics because they can last longer outside,” Lewis said.

A variety of his metal sculptures have been displayed outside and inside of businesses around Hastings, thanks to an advertising idea to build interest for the Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council Gala.

“I was surprised at how easy it was to work with large corporations to get them to display my art,” Lewis said. “But it was actually very easy.”

Coborn’s in Hastings had even constructed a platform next to a freezer full of ice for Lewis’ mosaic polar bear, and Spiral Natural Foods had agreed to display his metal dinosaur, which was unfortunately stolen and later found in a road ditch. Once it was recovered, Lewis added a crutch to support its damaged leg. One of his favorite displays in Hastings is a mirrored sculpture of the Predator, displayed at MidCountry Bank amidst an array of fig plants that simulate a forest habitat to stay true to the 1987 film. Other banks that have supported Lewis are Affinity Federal Credit Union and Wells Fargo in Sioux Falls. Tenacious K’s, the art gallery in downtown Hastings, exhibited both his metal Javelina pig and mosaic crystal chameleon. Las Margaritas uses Lewis’ realistic metal cacti to add to the atmosphere around their outdoor patio. These are only a few examples of the local businesses that support his artwork, and have provided encouragement for his work. Lewis’ most recent project is called “When pigs fly, they’ll fly jet fighters,” and was inspired by a Geico commercial.

“I just inherited a whole bunch of hubcaps,” said Lewis. “That’s where I got the idea for a large plane, because the Chevy hubcaps with the spokes looked like turbine engines.”

The plane will also have missiles hanging from the bottom. Lewis said the pilot will be a pig.

“I picture the pig just really happy,” he said. “I figure if a pig on TV can be a passenger on a commercial flight, why can’t it fly the plane too?”

Lewis’ creations often have appropriate titles to accompany them, such as his “ForkUPines,” which are porcupines made of forks, and a “TooRanchYouLa,” a large metal spider.

While there are many opportunities to see Lewis’ art around Hastings and in galleries around town, he is always up for giving tours of his home art studio and uploads pictures to his online gallery regularly. He is used to selling his art or displaying it in galleries, but sharing it with others makes him happy as well.

“I feel fortunate because I don’t have any stress, I get to make art instead,” Lewis said with a smile. Lewis hopes to continue creating metal sculptures, now that he has the time and the talent.

Lydia Birt
Lydia Birt is the Hastings Star Gazette's summer intern. She is a 2014 graduate of Hastings High School and plans to study journalism at the University of Missouri this fall. She is part of the Pohlad internship program through the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
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