Nebraska farmer sculpts animals, insects out of scrap metal

Ashley Bebensee
Kearney Hub
In this Jan. 13, 2019 a praying mantis sculpture is displayed near Martin Freed's home in Loomis, Neb. Spiders, the praying mantis and other bugs are scattered along a half-mile stretch of road in Loomis. While the giant insects may appear to be characters in a science fiction movie upon first glance, they are the creation of Freed.

LOOMIS, Neb. (AP) - A giant spider, large enough for a grown man to walk beneath, looms near Martin Freed's home.

Spiders, a praying mantis and other bugs are scattered along a half-mile stretch of road in Loomis. While the giant insects may appear to be characters in a science fiction movie upon first glance, they are the creation of Freed.

"My daughter and wife saw an aluminum bug at a place in Lincoln and took a picture of it and showed it to me, and said, 'Can you do something like that?' So I did one of the first ones to kind of make a Mother's Day present; a big bug to go in the garden. The funny part of that is my daughter is an entomologist, so I have to do them correctly," Freed said.

Expressing his creativity dates back to high school.

The Loomis farmer said he wasn't the best at creating typical pieces of artwork in art class, but he did enjoy doing body work and painting cars in his shop class.

"I would do some of the weird paint things and try to do airbrushing stuff in shop class, and the art teacher thought that was art. Lots of times instead of going to art class, I would get a pass to go to the shop class and work on my shop projects which she graded as art," he explained.

After receiving an associate's degree in agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Freed returned to Loomis and worked at an auto body shop for his former shop teacher, Kenton Thompson. Freed eventually returned to farming, and he continues to do body work, custom painting and creating sculptures on the family farm, the Kearney Hub reported.

Enormous wind chimes with bowling balls as the centerpiece fill part of the yard. Each chime is properly tuned. Different animals — wiener dogs, fish, a turtle — have been created from bits of scrap metal he's collected during the years, and they can be found all around the yard. Some of the bugs have lights in their eyes that are solar or battery powered. He also has transformed bowling balls into gazing balls. Music blares in both of Freed's sheds while he works. He keeps both sheds toasty warm because he hates working in the cold.

His sculptures sell for $100 to $2,500, depending on their size. If he doesn't keep the tractors, vehicles or other pieces he fixes and custom paints, he will sell them.

"I live off of other people's junk," he said. "That's made me a lot of money over the years because I buy a tractor that is ugly and nobody wanted. I see a gem. I'd fix it up and then run it for two, three, five, seven years."

A 1997 Case IH 8940 Magnum currently sits in Freed's heated garage, stripped of most of its body while he paints each individual piece. He's fixed up many tractors during the years, but one of his favorite projects is motorcycles. Freed began riding motorcycles in high school, but he sold his bike after getting married and having children.

"One of my buddies got back into it the one day. His wife had bought him a repo from the bank. I took it out for a ride, and it was like, 'Oh I remember why I liked to do this,'" he said.

Freed owns two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and in May 2018, he completed the Southern California Motorcycling Association's USA Four Corners Tour. He was inspired by his uncle, Kenneth Seeman, to do the tour after Seeman completed it at the age of 71.

Freed had 21 days to ride to San Ysidro, California; Blaine, Washington; Madawaska, Maine; and Key West, Florida, using any route and sequence. The ride is approximately 7,000 miles depending on the route, which doesn't include the travel to the first corner and the return trip. Freed completed the four corners in eight days, and he pulled into his shop in rural Loomis after 12 days and three hours. He kept a log of his days on the trip, and one of the most interesting parts of his journey was seeing the unique type of irrigation used in the western states.

"The neatest part was Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, seeing all the irrigation where it's still all hand lines or side rolls. Not very many pivots but, boy, is there a lot of water running in those valleys because there is a lot of alfalfa production. That was pretty fascinating to me," Freed said.

Martin continues to experiment and make an array of sculptures. Whether it's painting flames or wild colors on a motorcycle or making an enormous bug, he isn't afraid to branch out to try new things.

"If you are going to have a sculpture, why not make it a huge one?" he said. "I'd rather be over the top."