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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Aurelia farmer's creative re-cycling

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Denny Allen and his dog Obie sit underneath Denny's sculpture of Wiley Coyote chasing the Road Runner, who is cleverly disguised as the Allens' mailbox. Photo by Dan Whitney
When Denny Allen was a kid growing up south of Aurelia, he had a inquisitive, mechanical, and creative nature. His first mecahnical creation, as he recalls, was the transformation of two Schwinn bicycles into a motorized go-cart.

Following his graduation from Aurelia High School in 1969, Allen spent two years at Iowa Central Community College in Ft. Dodge, then earned his Bachelor's Degree from Buena Vista College (now University) in 1973. He also married the former Pam Misner of Aurelia that year, and the following year started his farming career. Along with crops and livestock, Denny and Pam also raised a family. Son Nathan is now 35 and lives in Long Beach, California; their other son, Wade, 30, lives in Des Moines; daughter Hayley Thiele 29, is in Grimes, and daughter Mariah, 13, is an 8th grader at Aurelia.

As a farmer, of course, Allen worked with a lot of machinery, and he soon found he was accumulating a bunch of "spare parts" in his farm operation. Rather than just disposing of these metal items, though, Allen kept them around, placing the smaller parts in a bucket in his shop. He started tinkering around, and turned some his "leftovers" into small art projects, such as a model of a bug. One thing led to another, and in 1987 (or thereabouts), Allen took several spare items he had sitting around, and, with the aid of his trusty welder, constructed his first large art piece - a model dinosaur. It took him about a week, though once he had finished the project, he faced a dilemma - "Now what do I do with this?"

Though he says that his first thought was to submerge the creature in a small body of water, such as a local gravel pit, and have someone "discover" the creature while fishing, he quickly dismissed that thought and decided to place his creation where more people might see it. He owned some land at the junction of Highway 59 and County Road 31 at the time, and took the dinosaur over there one day. I'm sure most of you who have traveled that route over the last 20 years have seen it, though it's a little harder to spot coming from Cherokee now, because several large trees block it from the view of travelers from the north. Though the property on which he rests has changed hands twice, the dinosaur is still there, though. Unlike his brethren, he is not extinct.

As you might expect, Allen received a lot of comments about his creation (mostly positive), and the rest, as they say, is history. He has continued to periodically create new art pieces through the years, usually for friends and family. Several years ago he constructed a crucifix for his church, Bethlehem Lutheran, which they initially they put up and took down every Lenten season. After a few years of that, though, it got to be a bit too much. Looking for a location to perhaps install it permanently, Denny found a willing landowner, John Reinert, who allowed him to display the crucifix on his land, which is located along the Highway 3 Bypass.

Inspired by this piece of art, the minister at the Aurelia Congregational Church, Bruce Rapp, asked Denny if he could create a similar, smaller cross for his church members. Denny was unable to find the material he needed, but, after thinking about it for awhile, remembered that he had an old walnut tree he needed to cut down. He proceeded to do so, and created his first artwork with a chainsaw. After getting started, he decided he'd better show it to Pastor Rapp to see if it was what he wanted. Bruce took a look, and said something to the effect of, "It looks very nice, but it (the body of Christ) kind of looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger." Modifications were made, and the cross now sits on the altar at the Aurelia church.

Another interesting and amusing Allen sculpture that travelers see every time they go by his home, which is located about 4 1/2 miles south of Aurelia on County Road M-21, is an action sculpture of the Road Runner being chased by Wily Coyote, located on top of the Allen mailbox. Denny used to have a sculpture of Jack climbing the beanstalk on his barn, which was als located along the blacktop. He torn down that building, though, so Jack and the Beanstalk went into temporary storage before he recently found them a new home elsewhere on his farm . Unfortunately, they are not visible from the blacktop in their new location.

Another "famous" Allen metal sculpture is the friendly bicyclist who waves to travelers along Highway 31. This piece went up at around the same time as the RAGBRAI riders were making their way on that route one recent summer. A little buddy joined the biker a couple of years ago, as Allen added a tricyclist riding in front of the bigger vehicle. This sculpture used, among other things, parts from an old tricycle they he had lying around.

Just down the road from the cyclists - about 300 yards to the west - if one looks up they may notice another of Denny Allen's creations, a prehistoric pterodactyl sitting perched in the crook of a tree on the north side of Highway 31.

Almost all of Allen's projects thus far have been for friends, and he takes no money for his work. His work is not exclusive to Cherokee County, either. Or even to the state of Iowa, for that matter, He told me about a cousin of his in Pender, Nebraska who requested that Denny do "something" for his yard. Denny suggested that he do a "John Deere-related" piece, since that cousin is a John Deere dealer. Denny told him what things he needed to do the sculpture he envisioned, and the cousin just happened to have a bunch of spare pieces, many painted 'John Deere Green' and yellow, and hauled them out to Denny's shop. When he was finished, Denny hauled the new sculpture back to Pender, where it now rests in his cousin's yard.

Not all that long ago, the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake was looking to have some art work placed at the hospital, and reportedly mentioned to staff, "If any of you can find out who has done all of those sculptures along C-63, let me know." The next thing he knew, Allen was getting a call from BVRMC. After meeting with personnel at the hospital, Allen suggested he do a sailboat, since that is the logo of the BVRMC. Long story short - there is now an Allen-constructed sailboat sitting outside the center entrance of the hospital. Allen did accept some financial remuneration for that project, since he was commissioned for the job, and because he also had to purchase some of the materials he needed. Usually, on the rare occasion that he doesn't have the material he needs for a project, Denny Allen has been known to scour a junkyard or two.

Denny's most recent project, completed just a few weeks ago, is a sculpture of a frog "zapping" a bug. It sits along the street in the front yard of the new residence of Dave and Sue Johnson in Aurelia.

By the way, Denny doesn't spend all his time creating these objets d'art. He also farms 1500 acres of corn and soybeans, but no longer raises livestock "except for the cats."

He is also active in the Aurelia Kiwanis and at Bethlehem Lutheran Church. His wife Pam owns and operates the Village Boutique store in Aurelia, and both have been very involved in the Aurelia Commercial Club and the events they sponsor - including the now-discontinued Haunted House.

For photos of Denny Allen's sculptures, see the "Area Artwork" Gallery.

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