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Rural Missouri Magazine

Look for the dinosaur
Stanberry welder has an eye for art

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by Erin Stubblefield

Mark Jensen has been welding for 20 years. While he always has used his craftsmanship for creative purposes, he only recently started welding large animal sculptures, such as the Holstein cattle that “graze” outside Jensen Manufacturing with the rest of his sculptures.

Mark Jensen never has trouble giving directions to his shop. His instructions to everyone are the same: Look for the dinosaur.

This welder from the northwest Missouri town of Stanberry uses his craftsmanship to turn metal debris into quirky gems. In front of his shop sits a scrap metal “dino-sculpture” that is hard to miss.

Mark, owner of Jensen Manufacturing, shapes and welds old washing machines, cream cans, combine parts — essentially any and all scrap materials — into metal works of art.

A herd of Holstein cattle made of fuel oil barrels and cream cans graze on the lawn in front of his business, and closer to his work shed sits a small replica of the town’s water tower, a model of an oil pumpjack and many more scrap novelties.

Mark’s most recent project is a bald eagle, made from parts of a dryer, to accompany another produced from a washing machine.

It's hard to miss the Mark's metal "dino-sculpture" when passing his business on Highway 136.

The welding exhibition attracts attention from locals and Highway 136 travelers alike, many of whom ask to take pictures on the animal sculptures and offer to purchase his yard ornaments.

While Mark’s personal collection isn’t for sale, he takes orders from people wanting a sculpture of their own.

“I don’t want to sell mine because when you use scrap metal, you can’t build the same thing twice,” he explains. “Many of the pieces are hard to come by, and for some that would mean tearing a whole combine apart.”

Unlike most sculptors, Mark does not classify himself as an artist. It’s purely a creative outlet that arose out of curiosity and challenges given to him by others.

The steel feathers on his bald eagles, the horse’s mane made entirely from sheered metal and the elaborate elk antlers are markings of a skilled welder, but Mark has not always been a craftsman. In his early years, he was a farmer, just like his father.

He shifted toward welding to earn a living 20 years ago. With no experience in the trade, Mark picked up a job making car haulers from scratch. He grew to love the craft, and by the age of 35, he was the owner of Jensen Manufacturing.

Five years ago, he started dabbling in the creative realm upon customer request. It started with commissioned projects such as yard signage and the mold breaker ­­­— a large tractor made entirely of flat sheet metal.

This project started with a customer bringing in a rotten piece of plywood shaped into a tractor and asking him to form a metal replica.

Mark Jensen does not limit his artwork to farm animals. Mythical beasts such as dragons find their way to his lawn.

Mark has sculpted several more flat sheet tractors since his dry run, and now he makes one every year for the Heart of America Tractor Cruise auction in Stanberry.

He makes each a little different, and the flat sheet tractor hanging over his office, which serves as his pattern, is accented in red metal and has a manure spreader attached.

But Mark’s welding innovation expanded beyond commissioned projects. Like his father, who constructed a large, wooden totem pole several years before, he enjoys working on projects that are “out of the ordinary,” and for the past eight years, he has been building metal sculptures.

Initially, he built an oil pumpjack, a smaller version of Stanberry’s water tower and a metal reproduction of his father’s totem pole.

Mark has impressed many customers, locals and travelers with his miniature metal replicas, but his large animal sculptures draw the most roadside attention.

Two years ago, he welded, and his niece painted, his first Holstein. Since then, he has built a an entire herd.

Drivers passing on the highway began asking Mark if they could sit on the cattle for pictures. One of his most memorable travelers was an old couple who could hardly walk but insisted on sitting on the large fuel barrel bodies for a picture. “It really made my day,” he says. “The older man had to prop himself against the other cow just to take the picture.”

Many of the passers-by offer to purchase the works, but out of the entire “herd,” he has only managed to part with the two he sold to Iowa’s Graceland University.

The sculptures’ popularity encouraged Mark to expand his collection, which has snowballed in the past two years.

The row of metal sculptures in front of Mark's shop is a magnet for passing shutterbugs who stop to take pictures with the metal creations.

Some of the pieces used for his work are salvaged farm equipment, purchases from antique stores or scrap metal given to him.

The legs for his spider, for example, were built from old hay forks furnished by a customer. With materials found in unexpected places, each sculpture has a unique origin and story behind its creation, but most of the time, Mark’s projects start a vision.

“You’ve got to let the imagination flow,” he says about working with metals. “When I come across a piece that resembles something, I save it to eventually make what it looks like.”

Jensen Manufacturing is located north of Stanberry on U.S. Hwy 136. Contact Mark at 660-783-0055.

Erin Stubblefied is Rural Missouri's 2010 summer intern.

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