Michigan artist Kyle Burnett recently designed a bullfrog sculpture out of scrap metal for  the Sterling Heights Nature Center.

Michigan artist Kyle Burnett recently designed a bullfrog sculpture out of scrap metal for the Sterling Heights Nature Center.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Nature Center becomes habitat for public art

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 4, 2020

 Brenda Suchenek, from the Sterling Heights Nature Center, stands beside the  new butterfly sculpture.

Brenda Suchenek, from the Sterling Heights Nature Center, stands beside the new butterfly sculpture.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Advertisement

STERLING HEIGHTS — The weather grows colder, but three critters recently found a new home at the Sterling Heights Nature Center. Fortunately, they’re made out of scrap metal and steel.

 Three animal sculptures — a monarch butterfly, a Cooper’s hawk and a bullfrog — are the latest examples of public art sculptures in Sterling Heights. According to city officials, one of the statues is outdoors, and the other two are found inside. Sterling Heights Community Relations Director Melanie Davis said the animal sculptures cost the city $5,200.

The animals were designed by Kyle Burnett, a Battle Creek-based artist. Burnett said he is a new sculptor who has recently had success doing online commissions.

“I made my first piece in January,” he said.

According to Burnett, 32, he got connected to Sterling Heights after Wendy Popko, an artist who previously painted a mural in Sterling Heights, reportedly saw his work on Facebook Marketplace and showed it to people she knew. Then the city’s Arts Commission chair, Jeanne Schabath-Lewis, reached out to him in early summer.

In the fall, the Arts Commission tasked Burnett with making the butterfly, the hawk and the bullfrog. Burnett said he used scrap metal, mostly mild steel, for the figures.

“I make all my sculptures out of, basically, recycled materials,” he said. “I have a lot of commissions this year — mostly animals. They commissioned me to do the animals. They wanted Michigan-based animals. Those are the three they decided.”

According to Schabath-Lewis, Sterling Heights businesses Fusion Fabricating & Manufacturing and General Dynamics Land Systems contributed 300 pounds of scrap metal toward the project.

Burnett said it took about 40-60 hours of work to complete the sculptures. He said the butterfly has a 5 1/2-foot wingspan, the hawk has a 29-inch wingspan and the bullfrog is about 8 inches.

He noted some of the challenges that the project posed. For instance, the butterfly had plenty of small leg details, and using scrap metal materials to represent nature also was a factor.

“The bullfrog, it’s one of the smallest, but it was one of the most challenging for me,” he said.

But Burnett said he is “super happy with the results” and added that the experience let him network.

“This has been a great opportunity,” he said. “I got to meet a lot of people in Sterling Heights. That really got me to get my art out there. It’s been a hard year with COVID.”  

Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said his department is grateful to have new sculptures and art.

“As a city, we’ve really put an emphasis on bringing art and bringing culture to residents,” he said. “What’s great about these sculptures is that they fit into the overarching theme of the Nature Center. They’re not just animals, but they’re animals that are patterned after what we’d find here in Michigan.”

Langlois added that the art’s scrap metal approach encourages recycling and good stewardship.

“Instead of the products being in a landfill, we had the opportunity to take the objects and turn them into something beautiful, and that helps tell our story at the Nature Center,” he said.

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Nature Center, 42700 Utica Road, by visiting www.myshpr.net or by calling (586) 446-2710. Due to the coronavirus, at press time, visits are by appointment only.

Advertisement