Vermillion metal artist Dale Lewis envisions prehistoric creatures when he sees scrap metal.
In fact, his artwork, called "Stanley the Stegosaurus," is on display this summer outside the Rosemount Steeple Center.
"I feel like they (his artwork) make people smile and that is what I strive to do," Lewis said.
His part-time hobby has now become a full-time labor of love. Lewis, a retired machinist and electrical technician, faced job challenges in 2008 after the real estate market collapse. He ventured into buying and selling homes after fixing them up.
"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.
Lewis, 63, creates artwork from his home studio in his detached garage in Vermillion.
As a self-trained welder, he loves to create scrap metal sculptures. His front yard serves as a prehistoric art gallery to showcase a large woolly mammoth that stands to greet guests. His yard is covered with other prehistoric animals and dinosaurs that line his driveway.
Three big metal sculptures are now on display in downtown Vermillion: a Chinese dragon, a dog sled team and a large giraffe made entirely from recycled silverware that stands in front of Duff's Tavern.
A friend offers storage space for his art and another allows him to use equipment to load and unload his giant metal sculptures.
Last fall the world took notice of his hobby and artwork. He took sculptures on the road to traveling shows that opened in zoos and arboretums. Today he has three large pieces that are installed at Big Stone Mini Golf near Minnetonka from an admirer who bought a few pieces of Lewis's art.
His art has been on the road and on display in eight states and in Canada as part of sculpture walks.
"There are a lot of nice things about the sculpture walks ... they have prizes and a public voting on their favorites and the people's choice award," Lewis said.
He added that he's proud to have won a few awards.
"Things have been moving along pretty fast for me," Lewis said.
He hired an art representative to help him with landing shows. Even though he is humble about his talent, Lewis wants to share his creations and make sure his artwork work is seen.
Since Lewis developed a relationship with Rosemount Area Arts Council and had other pieces on display last year for the annual ArtBlast, he was commissioned to create a special memorial art bench.
RAAC Board Chair Jeanne Schwartz wanted him to create a piece in memory of her husband Jim who died last year.
"I love Dale Lewis's work and when my husband died, I wanted something permanent to remember him by," Schwartz said.
Since Schwartz was one of the RAAC founders, she and her children decided a permanent memorial bench outside the arts center would be a great way to honor his life. The bench is designed with metal tools in an industrial look that sits as the first piece in the sculpture garden in between the library and arts center.
Stanley the Stegosaurus
The metal sculpture "Stanley the Stegosaurus" is part of a traveling show that is heavy in dinosaurs and prehistoric dinosaurs.
"The Stegosaurus is the most recognizable dinosaur with the plates on its back and it has the smallest brain to the body mass of all the dinosaurs - his brain may be the size and shape of a hot dog but he has a big heart," Lewis said, joking.
"The concept of making it was using galvanized material for the plates and I wanted to give it a rusty look," he said. He used springs for the vertebrae as he loves to discover old metal pieces from farm equipment.
"I will use whatever is lying around like an old Chevy truck frame and scrap metal from wherever I can find it, like a friend who lines up pieces and has a scrap yard," Lewis said. Another friend from Farmington helps hook him up with heavy metal.
"Inspiration comes from all over the place - I have a spinosaurus that is 25-feet long and the inspiration for that came from a National Geographic magazine when they had some feature on new fossil discoveries," he said.
Lewis took the images from the magazine's centerfold and started envisioning a metal spinosaurus that he could commission for himself to compliment his prehistoric collection.
Check out his artwork and traveling sculpture pieces at www.artistdalelewis.com.
"I am making an elephant bird and they were nearly 10-feet tall so they are the biggest, heaviest birds ever and that is why I selected it and they may have been living 700 years ago in Madagascar," Lewis said.