South Dakota’s John Lopez uses passion for Western life to create larger than life hybrid metal sculptures


John Lopez has loved sculpting since he was in college.

“I just totally fell in love with sculpture and bronze casting....that whole process,” the hybrid metal sculptor said.

After 15 years bronze casting, Lopez’s aunt died, and he moved back to the ranch to help his Uncle Geno build a cemetery.

He says building the cemetery is when his now famous scrap metal work started. People took note of it, liked it, and “it just kind of took off.” He now does what he calls “hybrid metal art,” which combines elements of bronze casting with scrap metal sculpting.

“That’s where my gift really was,” Lopez said.

It has now been 10 years and John Lopez is designing larger than life metal sculptures around the country. His work includes a wolf at his alma mater Northern State, a longhorn based in Texas, a cowboy riding a fish, a T-Rex, and much more.

The first big piece he ever did was a horse called Iron Star, which was modeled after his Uncle Geno’s stallion Frenchman’s Mr. Tough. Iron Star’s permanent home is in Hill City, South Dakota.


Via John Lopez Studio

The process starts with clay, which is what Lopez considers to be his sketch. He will mold his idea of a finished product into clay and send it to the client for approval. He says two things set his pieces apart, his background in sculpture and his love for the animals he sculpts.

Lopez tries to make the animal’s muscle structure as realistic as possible.

“That’s what really motivates me is the strength of the animal, as they’re coming to life, it kind of moves me to keep going and keep pushing and see if I can make it more alive,” he said. “I just keep trying to grow and push myself as an artist and try to do stuff that somebody else isn’t doing.”

Lopez loves horses and he grew up around them. He says seeing the way the animal is built and the way the animal moves gives him a big advantage when creating his art. He says, along with bison, horses are the subjects he does his best work on. In fact, not only was his first big sculpture a horse, so is the sculpture he is most proud of, a draft horse he calls Black Hawk.

Black Hawk’s permanent home is in New Hampshire and Lopez says you can feel the strength of the animal in this sculpture.

Black Hawk

Black Hawk Via John Lopez Studio

He also likes the plow without a farmer positioned behind the draft horse so viewers can interact with the sculpture on their own. Lopez even used scraps from old depression-era farming equipment to make this draft horse sculpture tell a larger story about the history of the agriculture.

"(At that time) a lot of people were struggling and farming and trying to plow the land and build a life,” he said.

Black Hawk, like most of his work, took him around 6 months. However, there are some that take him much longer, such as The Last Stand, which features two bison butting heads. That sculpture took Lopez more than four years to create.

Lopez says he would not be able to do all of the work without the help of his neighbors. He is still based in northwestern South Dakota and most of the scrap metal comes from nearby farmers and ranchers he grew up around. In his hometown of Lemmon, South Dakota, he has even renovated a bar and turned into a local local gallery, where he says he’s trying to continue creating pieces that inspire.

You can see more of his work here.