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Newton farmer creates metal insect sculptures

Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 10:42 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 10:46 a.m. CDT

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Newton has been graced with a talented artist, one who didn’t know he was an artist until only eight years ago.

Kevin Korte, a crop and cattle farmer, was raised on a farm north of Newton. He and his brother continue to farm corn, soybeans and hay, along with cows, on their father’s farm, but when he’s not working on the farm, he is working on building sculptures in his shop.

They’re very large sculptures, made from stainless steel scrap metal in the shape of insects. They can be seen from the highway on Kevin’s lawn west of the Izaak Walton League.

He’s made three: a praying mantis, a grasshopper and a mosquito. Kevin said he always has been interested in insects since he was a little kid. He used to catch them.

The insect sculptures are made from old hog feeders and other recycled metal found around the farm. The metal pieces are lightly welded or riveted to hold together and brushed to make a pattern.

All of his artwork is done by hand and made using very little tools. Kevin creates the sculptures as he goes along, all from his head. He has never drawn out blueprints or sketches like many artists use as a starting base.

Eight years ago, Kevin and his wife Kimbra attended the Iowa Sculpture Festival in Newton, which he credits as his artistic inspiration and how he got started.

“I went to the Iowa Sculpture Festival for the first time, held here every year during Alumni Weekend,” Kevin said. “That really inspired me to see all of the local artists and talents and what they can do.”

He started working with metal that winter after attending his first festival. His first large insect was completed the following spring, a praying mantis he and Kimbra call Mantey.

“It seemed like people really enjoyed it, but some thought it was a grasshopper. So the next winter, I made a grasshopper.”

You won’t find the grasshopper at the Korte residence this summer, at it has found a new home for the summer.

Kevin’s sculpture was selected by a committee to be on display this summer at Reiman Gardens in Ames. The award-winning Reiman Gardens, owned by Iowa State University, creates a new theme each year that correlates to all of its programs and displays and is intended to encourage visitors to experience the garden with a different perspective from the previous year. Past themes include “Novel Garden” inspired by literature and “Landscape Before Time” featuring prehistoric plants and insects. This year’s theme celebrates the state of Iowa with, “More than Meets the Iowa.”

“Kevin’s work was a perfect fit for our sculpture show this year. This show was created to highlight the gardens through plant-, insect-, and nature-related sculpture from artists with Iowa ties,” said Aaron Steil, manager of public programs at Reiman Gardens.

“The selection committee chose Kevin’s work out of more than 40 proposals because it was a unique piece,” Steil said. “It was a perfect representation of a grasshopper on an enormous scale, which the committee knew would be a visitor favorite.”  

It’s true. In fact, kids and adults alike are fascinated and pleased with his work.

One of the things that have happened since Kevin started building metal sculptures was an increase in traffic to their home. The couple shared numerous stories about people coming by to take pictures with the insects — grandparents whose grandchildren wanted to come see the bugs when they’re in town or the Wisconsin elementary student who wanted to get a picture with the mosquito for show-and-tell.

“We’ve had a lot of people just stop to look at it, and some people come to the door and ask to take pictures. We even had a group of motorcycle riders that were on a road trip across Iowa. They were stopping at any of the largest things in Iowa, like the world’s largest bike in Lewis, and we were one of their stops. The largest grasshopper. They found us online.”

All the positive feedback and response from people of all ages is more than Kevin ever expected. He’s very humble about the recognition he has been receiving.

“It does something to me inside. It makes me feel good to know people respond to it. I like just watching people look at the bugs and kids run up to it and want their picture taken with it. It makes me feel good,” he said.

“I never expected any of that. I just thought I’d make something and enjoy it in my yard, but I’m glad everybody else likes it too.”

Kevin’s most recent large insect is the mosquito he and Kimbra call Skeeter or Itch. It can be seen in front of his house today. He started working on it two and a half years ago, and after Reiman Gardens chose to borrow his grasshopper, Kevin thought he should finish it.

“I knew my grasshopper was going to be leaving this summer, and I was going to kind of miss him. I finished it about a week before the sculpture festival this summer and more or less unveiled it up there.”

The mosquito is made from stainless steel and around 300 bolts. Its face was built using an old separator, steel dog bowl and a few reflectors for eyes. Kevin put a solar light behind the red reflectors so the eyes can be seen at night. In total, the mosquito weighs about 540 pounds.

Not only does Kevin make large, recognizable insect sculptures, but he also makes smaller pieces of art for the yard, home and man cave.

The Kortes’ yard includes interesting pieces made from recycled metal gears from the old Midwest manufacturing plant in Kellogg and a unique garden scarecrow made from the bones of an old cow named Molly.

“This all happened just because I went to the Iowa Sculpture Festival.”

Kevin works on projects after working on the farm first. Sunday is primarily the day for metal bending and he works on the artwork at the machine shop on his father’s farm.

“It’s always a secret. I never really know what it’s going to be, and then one day he takes me to see it. It’s always kind of a surprise,” Kimbra said.

“When I make them I try to give them a little personality so they’re not just a hunk of iron. One person said they’re kind of magical. I think that is very good if you can get a smile from just looking at a piece of art,” Kevin said.

Linda Klepinger, executive director of the Centere for Arts & Artists and president of the Iowa Sculpture Festival, said Kevin has been a wonderful addition to the artist community and is an inspiration to so many because of his recent interest in art.

“He’s inspired other people to think outside the box and find their creativity. He’s shown so many that perhaps if someone who was not a professional can start then perhaps they can too. Kevin’s a great example of how creativity and hard work and can inspire others,” Klepinger said.

Kevin expressed his utmost appreciation for the Iowa Sculpture Festival and the art scene around Newton.

“That really changed my life, just going to that. I was never really interested in art before then,” he said. “If people don’t go to the Iowa Sculpture Festival, they’re really missing out.”

Staff writer Kate Malott may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 422, or at kmalott@newtondailynews.com.

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