A ranch hand turned scrap sculptor

The grand animals found on working ranches are already remarkable enough in their physical stature and powerful presence, but one artist takes their grandeur a step further with his sculptures welded from rusty old scrap metal.

John Lopez was born and raised on a ranch in his home-state of South Dakota, where he’s received critical acclaim and community commissions for his work. He grew up as a ranch hand and went on to study bronze sculpting in college. After a successful career in the art field well known for his work with bronze, he began to experiment with unconventional scrap iron material taken from an old tractor and other abandoned machinery.

These life-size re-creations of stallions, buffalos and bulls quickly called attention from around the world. The 43-year-old told the Daily Mail this summer, “I get my ideas from my life, the ranch, our history here, the animals around our area.” “My favorite part about these pieces is the texture,” he explains. “I just start grabbing stuff from the pile and welding it, and if you weld enough of the same thing on over and over it creates this really cool texture.”

In 2000, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame commissioned John to create two bronze monuments for their sculpture garden. The first features World Champion Calf Roper Paul Tierney on Coffee Jeff, a horse raised by Lopez's uncle; the second depicts Charmayne James on her famous horse Scamper.

Today, Lopez remains busy with a full roster of projects. The best way to dip into his work, however, might be to take a tour of his sculptures in the Dakotas. View a map here, and buckle up for an eye-opening ride.