Archive for Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Junk sparks artist’s creations

August 14, 2002

Most people would see the scrap metal, busted golf clubs, discarded barrels and the door handles from a 1954 Ford Station wagon at Harold Leible's place and immediately call it junk.

Leible envisions a barbecue smoker when looking at the unwanted items.

Some people might see an old rusted farm disc and look for the nearest dump.

Leible sticks it in the flowerbed for his plants to rest on.

"You'd be amazed at what some people can make out of junk," he said.

And he would know.

The retired Leavenworth County welder and construction worker has made just about everything out of anything at his backyard workshop on 178th Street, west of Basehor.

"Sometimes you lay things down, you throw em' in a pile and you forget about it," he said. "I just find junk and make something out of it."

Leible's innovation extends well past the objects discarded by society and includes the valueless items left by Mother Nature.

For example, the odd-looking birdhouse perched in a wall on his home's back deck looks manmade. A closer look reveals it's actually a hallowed out stump with a hole in the center and a roof nailed to the top.

Something from nothing. Unusable and unwanted to practical and decorative.

There's other items on the Leible property that exemplify his need to fashion and innovate: an old tree with bird houses peeking through the branches and a carved squirrel sitting on top of a fence post.

But it's working with the tools of his trade that makes Leible most happy and content welding, pounding and shaping metal into sculptures consumes most of his time and energy.

Passersby recognize his endless energy when observing the number of metal sculptures on his entire property.

There's a pack of coyotes that guard his home's driveway entrance and there's a metal eagle nesting on top of the flagpole.

And then there's his mailbox.

"They won't knock that over too easy," Leible said. "That'll rattle anybody that hits it with a baseball bat."

Leible spends the early mornings and late afternoons working with his sculptures.

"I get wanting to do something and I come to the shop," Leible said. "I could come down here completely exhausted and absolutely enjoy good hot work.

"My wife will probably find me dead down here one day," he added.

It's that work ethic born through 35 years of working in hot weather and steamy shops that allows Leible to create and keep up with his metal sculptures.

Two of his most impressive works include a 35-pound eagle he welded from half-inch metal plates and a four-foot long sailing vessel with a working steering wheel.

The eagle is attached to a swivel at its base and will be used as a weather vane. The sailing vessel is a gift to his daughter.

Most of Leible's sculptures turn into gifts for family members or friends he recently completed a mailbox with a saddle on top at the request of his son-in-law.

"I said 'Yeah, I'll make you a dang blum saddle'," he said. "I just told him not to ride it."

But it's the unknown projects, those new creations that keep Leible coming back to the shop, and he's got one in mind that'll put his abilities to the test.

A friend told him he was attempting to create life-size Wizard of Oz characters for a Kansas City, Kan., woman. The project has Leible thinking.

"I want to do that so bad," he said. "That would probably be a year's worth of work and that would be a challenge. But that can flat be done."

Leible said he won't hone in on his friend's project, but if he ever falters and needs a backup . . . "I've been at this for 40 years and I've never said, 'No I can't.'"

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