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Rice farmer transforms metal scraps into art

Jan./Feb. 2005 California Country magazine

Richvale rice grower Dennis Lindberg is a creative artist who fashions birds and animals of all descriptions from parts in scrap piles found on the farm.



He calls his scrap iron creations "junk," but beyond the cheeky description, Richvale rice grower Dennis Lindberg is a creative artist who fashions birds and animals of all descriptions from parts in scrap piles found on the farm.

"I get a great deal of satisfaction from making something tangible out of something that has been thrown away. Usually I find parts in farmers' scrap piles and every farm has one," Lindberg said.

Lindberg, 80, says his love of working with scrap metals and materials stems from growing up during the Great Depression, when an economic crisis brought the worst unemployment the country had ever seen, causing people to skimp and save to survive. Younger generations may look at a farmer's scrap pile and see a collection of unsightly trash, but Lindberg sees tremendous creative possibilities.

"I am a Depression-era person--'Waste not want not.' We tend to try to use and hang onto everything, to the disgust of the younger generation sometimes," Lindberg said. "My son always says, 'Why do you want to keep that around?' Once there was a piece of metal that had gotten twisted after it was hooked on the chisel point of the implement that he was pulling. He started to throw it away, and I said, 'Give me that, that is a turkey head.'"

As Lindberg digs through the scrap piles of metal at his farm, his neighbors' farms and anywhere else he can visit, he finds pieces of old and broken-down farm equipment, rusted tools and sometimes unknown parts for his artistic creations. He began the hobby about five years ago and in that time has built as many as 70 sculptures.

With his wife Charlotte's overwhelming approval, Lindberg maintains a personal outdoor art exhibit of some of the scrap iron sculptures he has created. Close to 10 different iron birds and animals stand guard around his home, including a turtle, duck, roadrunner, flamingo, penguin, goose, rooster and a turkey.

"In looking at the scrap metal I will see some little article in the pile of parts. When I made the turtle I started with the head and then I had to improvise," Lindberg said. "I found an old transmission case or pan that made a perfect shell. Then off of a weed chopper there were some curved pieces that whirl around and make perfect feet."

One of Lindberg's favorite and more challenging pieces is a honeybee that took him quite awhile to build. It features six legs, a coil body, four wings, an antenna and buggy aluminum eyes. The bee now resides at the home of his niece, whose family breeds queen bees that are shipped all over the world.

"The honeybee is one of my favorites simply because it was difficult and when you see it, it looks like a bee. I took the picture of it sitting on the hood of my pickup and I tell people that right after I took the picture the thing flew away," Lindberg said with a chuckle.

One creation that Lindberg is most proud of and what he is pretty much noted for by those who know him is his series of scrap iron sculptures entitled, "The Great Northern Shoveler," or duck.

"I do a lot of sculptures on the theme, 'The Great Northern Shoveler' because it became so easy to turn a shovel upside down and make the back of the duck, but then you have to improvise," Lindberg said.

Lindberg has created about 15 ducks in the series that range from "The Farmers' Market Duck" to the "Crop Adviser Duck." The very first one he ever made was named "The Loving Mate" which he presented to his wife.

"The Cop Duck" has a nice bright star on its breast. On the head of "The Mathematician Duck," a bearing simulates a gyroscope and an arrow on its tail oscillates like a compass. Under the duck's wing is a metal ruler that simulates a slide rule. The duck uses all of these instruments to chart the North American migration routes of the "Great Northern Shoveler," Lindberg explains.

"The Talk Show Duck" was given to Bob Simms, who hosts a two-hour radio talk show on KFBK in Sacramento. This piece of art features a duck wearing headphones with a microphone in front of its beak.

"'The Talk Show Duck' is my pride and joy. I am honored to have it and so flattered that Dennis took the time to design it for me that I can't express it," Simms said. "I can see the thought, time and effort that he put into it and nobody fails to ask me about it. I keep it at the entrance of my back deck where people come up to the house. It is the first thing that they see."

When designing his animal sculptures, Lindberg uses mostly iron and sometimes other materials, and welds the pieces together.

"Nearly everything that I have built, people are quite impressed with. It is crude, but remember it is done with junk," Lindberg said. "I even use an old welding rod that doesn't make a nice bead and should be thrown away. Why use up a brand new one?"

Lindberg designs the sculptures because he enjoys staying busy and he likes the challenge of creating new animals and adding to his series of "The Great Northern Shoveler." Most of the sculptures are given to family, friends and acquaintances. He donated art pieces to the local Ducks Unlimited chapter and to the Oroville Christian School for fund-raisers. Each piece brought about $300.

"People want to buy them but I just don't want to do that. I do this when I feel like it and that is just what a hobby should be," Lindberg said. "I work on them when I am inspired."

Born and raised in Richvale, the second-generation rice farmer has finished farming his 63rd consecutive rice crop and continues to grow rice with his son. As a long-time member of the Richvale community, Lindberg and other descendants of the founders of the town of Richvale are writing a book on local history, "Vikings in the Mud--the History of Richvale."

Lindberg has been a member of the Butte County Farm Bureau since 1945 and has received much recognition over the years, including Outstanding Richvale Citizen of the 20th Century by Lundberg Family Farms.

"I've admired Denny all of my life. He's just been the kind of guy that if every community had a guy like Dennis Lindberg, all of our problems would be solved because he is just such a great community-spirited citizen," said fellow community member and rice grower Homer Lundberg. "Ever since I was 10 years old in this town and he was putting together softball leagues, he has just been doing good things for the community. I've always admired his good humor and then taking that 'junk' and making artwork out of it. It is creative and clever."

(Christine Souza is a reporter with the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be reached at (800) 698-FARM or by e-mail at csouza@cfbf.com.)


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