The man behind the metallic masterpieces


Trinity Carey

A tyrannosaurus rex fishing, totem poles, a blue owl—some of these creative curiosities may have caught your eye on a journey through the Upper Peninsula. But there’s many more of these distinct metal sculptures to be seen and they’re all made by one Yooper native—Tom Lakenen, the owner and operator of Lakenenland, a sculpture park of ‘junkyard art.’

Lakenenland has been a beloved stop for locals and tourists alike for over 14 years. Lakenen, 54, began crafting his junkyard art over 20 years ago after he quit drinking. A welder for many years and a current boilermaker, building sculptures became his hobby between jobs and an escape from the tavern. But the sculptures didn’t always have the park to call home.

As Lakenen built the sculptures he would place them in front of his house. Eventually Chocolay Township said the sculptures were considered a sign in a residential area, so Lakenen moved them to the backyard to avoid a ticket.

“I kept building more and throwing them in my backyard and my whole backyard filled up with this junk,” Lakenen said. “I just wanted to put them someplace where people can see them.”

He found and bought 37 and a half acres to put his sculptures and opened Lakenenland to the public 24/7, 365 days a year.

Currently, the park features two ponds, a park, a stage, a bog walk and around 100 metal sculptures. The bog walk takes visitors back through a swamp to spot different metal woodland creatures and a few of Lakenen’s creations. The planks that make up the bog walk mostly come from the old ore dock in the Upper Harbor. The materials making up his sculptures are scraps collected from different construction jobs.

“I thought, ‘well I want to build something to use up all this junk,’ and I just started building all these sculptures, and I still haven’t ran out of scrap yet,” Lakenen said.

Pieces at the park range from the solar system made out of bowling balls to political statement pieces, though he never begins with an idea when creating art.

“Most of the time when I’m building that stuff I don’t have an idea. I just pull some scraps into the garage and look at it and think, ‘What could you possibly make out of this junk?’” Lakenen said. “By the time I’m done with it, hell, I don’t even know what it’s going to be.”

Although Lakenen has created all the art, making the park into what it is today has been a bit of a family effort, he said. Lakenen creates all the sculptures, but his mom does all the painting on the pieces. His nephew has also held the “Free the Music Fest” music festival at the parkfor the last five summers.

Lakenenland has also been the venue for church services, camp picnics, birthday parties, high school plays and more. Keeping the park in tact year-round requires a lot of upkeep from Lakenen. In the summer it’s cutting the grass and smoothing the roads, and with the snow here, winter is more time consuming.

“In the wintertime I keep it plowed. I have a gas leaf blower, so I go around and blow the snow off everything everytime it snows and sometimes that’s seven days a week,” he said, chuckling.

Lakenen also collects wood throughout the year to keep a bonfire going on the weekends for the snowmobilers passing by the park on the North Country Trail. Sometimes he brings hot chocolate and spreads the message to “throw some logs” on the fire to keep it going for the next group.

He is hopeful the park will always be a destination for tourists and locals to enjoy.

“When you see a whole school bus of kids coming in and they’re all running around and having a ball, that’s the best part of it and tourists stopping by and enjoying it,” Lakenen said. “It makes it all worthwhile.”

New sculptures come to the park each year and according to the Lakenenland log book, people from all over the world are have stopped to see it. Lakenen plans to continue to make more sculptures in the future for people to enjoy for free.

“The park is always free. I don’t ever want a family to drive by and not be able to stop because they can’t afford it. I just want to put it out there where people can see it,” he said. “I don’t ever sell anything as long as I can make a living and survive on construction. I’d like to just be the caretaker of the park, but that doesn’t pay enough.”