Spaceships and dinosaurs – from the junkyard?
For kids: Artist Steve Heller sculpts amazing art out of old tools and junked car parts.
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He's always in motion, too. He leaps on and off his giant sculptures, looking for any flaws.Skip to next paragraph
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Several years ago, he toppled off the nose cone of his "Roswell or Bust" spaceship. It's a tubby, 11,000-pound contraption made of a cement mixer and various ancient car parts. It stands complete with happy alien astronauts visible through the windows.
His spaceships run from jumbo-size craft like "Roswell" to smaller rockets made from the housings of car headlights.
While some of Mr. Heller's creature sculptures are scary-looking, others are downright goofy. The Wrenchosaurus is painted bright yellow and orange, and it's made from 800 wrenches!
Carpenters use wrenches to tighten bolts, of course, but Mr. Heller welds the tools together to make backbones and other skeletal structures.
The Wrenchosaurus was twice the winner of the Artists' Soapbox Derby held every year in Kingston, N.Y., a town near Boiceville. The dinosaur even blows flames as it rolls downhill, thanks to a propane gas tank lashed to its underbelly. Its eyeballs are made of lug wrenches and interior car lights. Its feet are shovels.
T. Wrench is the biggest beast Mr. Heller has ever built. It's a 4,800-pound Tyrannosaurus rex with an "evil eye" that glares out at the world from its 20-foot height. It's made from snowplow chains, bulldozer sprockets, and links from log skidders. (Log skidders are mechanisms used to drag heavy lumber through the forest.)
T. Wrench took nine months to build, and Mr. Heller needed a heavy-duty construction crane to move it. Last year, it towered over its very own traffic island as part of the Kingston Sculpture Biennial.
Expeditions of the imagination
When he finished T. Wrench, Mr. Heller began working on a new soapbox racer.
As for what he drives in real life: a big, fat 1959 Cadillac that's yellow with pink flames on the sides and front. He calls it the "rocket ship" of its day with fins rivaling those of a great white shark. He rebuilt the car from the ground up. He's even responsible for its flashy paint job. On the console inside the car is a shiny, bullet-shaped object the size of a football, which he identifies as the "flux capacitor." For those who don't know, that's the gizmo that launched a young Marty McFly on his time-travel adventure in the 1985 film "Back to the Future."
One day last summer, Mr. Heller especially resembled Doc Brown, the nutty inventor in that movie whose hair stood on end after lightning struck close by: When Mr. Heller was still hot from welding his creatures and his T-shirt had burn holes in it from the sparks, he ran his fingers through his wild gray hair and laughed. He was relieved to have finished his Tyrannosaurus Wrench and taken it to Kingston on a flatbed truck.
For the moment, T. Wrench still looms dark and menacing over a street in Kingston. Neighbors who live near it there can imagine they have time-traveled backward into the Cretaceous period.
And that's what makes Mr. Heller's artistic talent so out of this world: With it, he's able to transport the human spirit through time on the shoulders of his dinosaurs – or into outer space on his shining spaceships.