Metal artist Dale Lewis is serious about his craft even though he aims to create whimsical art sculptures that speak to the inner child.

He said he operates under the motto: "It's OK for fine art to be fun!"

Last week Lewis installed five new original metal sculptures that line Hastings Riverwalk. His art has been showcased near the river for more than four years when it was part of a sculpture walk program. His iconic metal sculptures of cartoon characters Gumby and his friend Pokey have lived near the sculpture park for years and are now getting a professional sandblasting and fresh paint powder coating.

Lewis names each sculpture, including: "Spinner Dolphin," "Automotive Tree," "Baby Spoon Bush," a cannon called "Boom, Boom!" and a shark called "Jump the Wave."

Spinner Dolphin is designed with an interactive feature so people can spin around the sculpture.

"Everyone has a soft spot for the bottlenose dolphin and these look really similar and I like that they have a curious habit of spinning when they jump," Lewis said. "My pieces, I feel like they make people smile and that is what I strive to do."

His part-time hobby is now a full-time labor of love as a retired machinist and electrical technician. He faced employment challenges in 2008 after the real estate market collapse.

"That is when I stumbled around and began playing with some arts stuff and now there is no turning back and as it turns out, this is a lot more fun than sanding sheetrock," Lewis said.

Staggering works of art

A woolly mammoth sculpture made from wire called "Wooly Bully" stands in his Vermillion driveway. It took Lewis six months to construct the piece.

"He is really the centerpiece of my traveling sculpture show called Scraposaurus that is all prehistoric animals," Lewis said.

The collection showcases his imagination of dinosaurs and he said he will soon add an elephant bird.

Lewis, 63, said he envisions prehistoric creatures when he sees scrap metal. As a self-trained welder, his front yard serves as a prehistoric art gallery. Three metal sculptures are also on display in downtown Vermillion.

His prehistoric sculptures have been showcased in eight states and British Columbia, Canada, as part of sculpture walks and are becoming more popular.

Currently, the sculpture "Stanley the Stegosaurus" is on display outside the Rosemount Steeple Center. Two pieces will be on display at the Dakota County Fair in Farmington inside the arts building, a 9-foot leatherback turtle and a humpback whale called "Billy the Whale."

The sea turtle sculpture was inspired after an encounter with nature on a trip. Last winter, Lewis and his wife visited his two sisters who live in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"The leatherback turtles had just started nesting and you were able to see the nest sites ... at night, and in the daytime they climb down," Lewis said. "It just impressed me because they are so big and it looks like bulldozer climbed out of the ocean and made a nest in the sand."

His sea turtle sculpture weighs 2,000 pounds.

Last spring his metal dragon was on display at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska and stayed all summer as part of the Chinese-themed garden. During the arboretum's holiday light festival, three sculptures were showcased. He had a life-sized ice curler, a dog sled team with five dogs, and his cherry tree sculpture constructed with baby spoons.

"These sculptures have kind of taken over my life and is what I think about when I am not thinking about anything else," Lewis said, adding he appreciates his wife's support for his passion.

View Lewis's artwork and traveling sculpture pieces at www.artistdalelewis.com.