MITCHELL, S.D. — A unique sculpture of a buffalo now graces the northwest side of Lake Mitchell, thanks to a local couple who purchased it after visiting an event celebrating a popular television series in Wyoming.
“It’s a buffalo made out of horseshoes,” said Bonnie Martin with a chuckle. “It’s maybe just a bit smaller than an actual buffalo.”
Shooey, which is the name of the sculpture on the property of Bob and Bonnie Martin, caught the eye of Bonnie during a recent trip to Longmire Days in Buffalo, Wyo. The couple, fans of the popular “Longmire” television program that ran on A&E and then Netflix until 2017, saw the sculpture during their visit and thought it would make a nice addition to their backyard at Lake Mitchell.
The couple bought the piece of art and had it delivered to their property at Lake Mitchell on Aug. 18. The piece incorporates about 500 horseshoes in its design and weighs 450 pounds, Martin said.
The Martins purchased it as a decoration for their yard, but soon realized that the sculpture would be easily viewed by the general public.
“Since we live on a hillside, it stands out pretty good,” Martin said.
The sculpture itself was designed and built by Frank Schwegel, a former logger originally from Montana and now living in Sundance, Wyo., who makes similar pieces of art and sells them at a variety of shows across the country. He began sculpting the pieces after seeing his father do similar work before he died, Schwegel said.
“My dad did it before he passed away, and I kind of picked it up from him. He didn’t do sculptures, but he did some smaller items,” he said.
Schwegel took up the horseshoe sculpting craft about two years ago, and he started big. His first sculpture was a full-sized stagecoach, and from there he went on to create horses and buffalo, among other items. He said he has completed 15 horses and five buffalo, with the latest buffalo now gracing the Martin’s yard at Lake Mitchell.
“All my sculptures are a little bit different,” Schwegel said. “I realized there was money to be made but I also had to pursue it at a whole new level. That’s when I started the sculptures.”
Schwegel said he has sculpted a number of different items and showed them at different events and venues. In addition to buffalo and horses, Schwegel created horseshoe sculptures of swirl cactuses, border collies, rocking horses that children can actually ride and a pegasus with an 8-foot wingspan. His clients range from private citizens to municipalities and government entities, he said. He’s shown his work at the state horse expos in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and sold sculptures to the University of Minnesota and the city of Gillette, Wyo.
The idea of using horseshoes in his art was also inspired by his father, he said.
“That was basically through my dad, and it was a medium that, at the time, not a lot of people were doing. Now there are quite a few more people,” Schwegel said. “I try to differentiate by being more unique and changing and coming up with new stuff. New ideas are very important to me.”
He obtains the horseshoes from farriers, professionals who specialize in the care of the hooves of horses. Preparing those shoes is the most time-consuming part of creating the pieces, he said.
“The cleanup of the shoes is the most tedious process. The first process just knocks the heavy rust off, and it gets it to the point where I can weld it,” Schwegel said. “For Shooey, I used a couple coats of clear shot, but there’s probably going to be a point where you want to take a little brush to it.”
He expects he will create these works for the foreseeable future, but it is especially pleasing that customers and the public throughout the region are enjoying his work.
“It is pleasing. It just amazes me that people buy them as easily as they do,” Schwegel said.
The sculptures have become popular around the country, and the response to Shooey at Lake Mitchell has been no exception. Roger Haley, a neighbor of the Martins and president of the Island Homeowners Association, said the sculpture is a great addition to the environment at Lake Mitchell.
“It’s kind of unique,” Haley said. “It’s really a piece of art. It adds a little class.”
Beautification of the development can only help improve the living and recreational experience of those using and visiting Lake Mitchell, he said.
“They’re doing something to dress it up. It’s kind of nice. You have to have something to make it nice,” Haley said.
Martin said they are still working on the exact positioning of the sculpture and planning to secure it to the ground in the near future. She also said she hoped sometime down the road to add a small companion in the form of a buffalo calf sculpture for Shooey.
But for now, Martin said they will continue to enjoy the company of their unique piece of art, and hope others do the same.
“I think we’re pretty happy with where we have him now,” Martin said. “It’s for our viewing pleasure as much as the public’s.”