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Heavy Metal Iguana Wins Juried Art Show

Photo for: Heavy Metal Iguana Wins Juried Art Show

'Iguana' by Juan Lopez. (Photo by Anthony Schalk)

An ingenious iguana sculpture made of tools, chains, auto parts, nuts, bolts, drill bits and screws took the top spot in the Forest Preserve District’s 2021 “Sculpting WILD” juried art show.

“Iguana” by Juan Lopez of Justice was deemed by a panel of judges to be the top entry from among 38 artworks that were on display at Plum Creek Nature Center in Crete Township from March 2 through April 3. A total of 53 pieces were submitted for consideration.

The impressive lizard is 2 feet wide, 1 foot tall, almost 6 feet long and it weighs around 45 pounds.

Lopez, a scrap metal artist, has been creating metal art for seven years. “My creations consist of a variety of old and discarded tools, automotive parts and found objects,” he wrote in his artist’s biography. “Each piece is one of a kind. It started as a hobby and now it’s my passion.”

Lopez said he was surprised to learn of his win in the contest.

"It's awesome," he said of his first place finish. "It was great news. Especially because there were so many great artists in the show. And it was my first time in an art competition." 

The scraps he uses to create his artwork come from "everywhere," he said. "I go to yard sales, flea markets and even find things on the side of the road. I also upcycle all of my scraps from work."

Lopez said his iguana sculpture, one of around 400 he has created, will probably outlive him. "It's pretty sturdy," he said. "Everything is welded on and those pieces will last a lifetime."

People's choice

(Photo by Anthony Schalk)

“The Hungry Giraffe” sculpture by Deanna Lynn Otten of Somonauk was the top vote-getter in the People’s Choice Award, which was determined by public voting on the District’s Facebook page. More than 1,900 votes were cast.

“I've always admired how beautiful and peaceful they are,” Otten said of giraffes. “That's probably why they were one of my favorite animals to visit at the zoo. I also had a giraffe collection growing up as a kid.”

Otten said art has always been one of her greatest passions. After studying art in college, she has continued taking classes in everything from oil painting to stained glass. “My newest interest has become woodcarving thanks to an amazing teacher from Sandwich, Gene Westerberg,” she wrote in her artist’s bio. “It was here that I learned how to turn a wood block into beautiful form with personality.”

The giraffe is 30-inches tall and made from basswood and acrylic and it took 60 hours to create. Otten used rotary powered tools and wood burning tips to carve the creature out of one piece of wood. The People’s Choice Award is the first Otten has won for her artwork.

“I feel honored that others like my sculpture as well,” she said in reaction to her win. “I love to challenge myself and learn new techniques from others. This was my first professional exhibit. The experience was exciting!”

Symbiosis and Sinistral

"Nature's Symbiosis" by June Finnegan. (Photo by Anthony Schalk)

In the juried portion of the show, June Finnegan of Crete came in second with her “Nature’s Symbiosis” sculpture. The retired art teacher said she focused on 2D drawing and painting in college. Once she retired, she took a stone sculpting class and began working in 3D. Her second-place piece is an abstract limestone sculpture highlighting organic forms flowing across the piece “showing flower, egg, bird, flora and fauna in balance.”

And the jury awarded David Wheeler of Joliet third place for his “Sinistral” piece. Wheeler is a former railcar diesel mechanic who has taken up woodworking as a hobby. His piece is made of zebrawood and wenge wood and it portrays a shell's uncommon left-hand growth, which is called a sinistral. “Most people don’t realize that shells grow both dextral (to the right) and sinistral (to the left),” he explained.

Overall, the competition and exhibit were a great success, said Suzy Lyttle, a Forest Preserve program coordinator who oversaw the event.

"This year’s jury art competition was fantastic because even under the one umbrella of 'sculptures' there were so many different kinds, mediums, and themes," she said. "From birdhouses, flowers, to turtles, we had a little bit of everything. Every year this show surprises me. I see nature every day and teach nature every day but these artworks always open up my viewpoint to see nature in a fresh new light."

The jury was made up of Lyttle, a Forest Preserve program coordinator; sculptor Steve Kost, last year’s first place juried art show winner; art teacher Eryn Blaser; and Jim Flax, a member of The Nature Foundation Will County.

The juried art show was offered in partnership with The Nature Foundation of Will County. Cash prizes of $500 for first, $250 for second, $200 for third and $100 for the People’s Choice were awarded to the winners.


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