Tom Lakenen, Lakenenland

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Visiting Information

The site is open 24/7 free of charge.

About the Artist/Site

Looking for something to do in the evenings - or on long layoffs between construction jobs – instead of sitting around and drinking beer, ironworker Tom Lakenen decided to use some of the scrap metal he would find at job sites to create whimsical sculptures. Without any previous interest or training in art, although with a high school welding class under his belt, he brought the scraps home and started twisting and welding them into playful shapes in his garage. When the number of metal sculptures that he was installing on his front yard in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula became too troublesome to the township authorities, he moved them to his back yard, but he continued to get hassled by the officials, who tried to classify his works as “commercial signage” instead of sculpture.

But he couldn’t stop making his sculptures, so in 2003 he found a 37-acre parcel of land for sale along the highway, and refinanced his house to purchase the property. This site, to which he moved all of his sculpture, is located across the street from Lake Superior and alongside winter snowmobile trail 417, approximately 15 miles east of Marquette. There, he created his self-named park: the large painted entrance sign welcomes visitors to see his “Junkyard Art.” Using a variety of scrap materials, he has welded and pieced together a wide variety of found objects to create whimsical creatures – some brightly painted (by his mother) and others in their natural state of aluminum or steel – who straddle fallen logs or peek around trees.

A former construction worker whose hobby went “wild,” now some 100 works currently adorn the Lakenenland site; there is a rebar gator, eccentric space creatures, spiders and tigers and dragons and a pig riding an old-fashioned bicycle. There is also a mermaid, flying saucers and flying fish, comic wolves, Bigfoot, wacky vehicles, figures, and flowers of all kinds. One memorable work is a pink elephant that Lakenen produced for his daughter; on its back is a small picnic table just kid-size. “People ask where do I get the ideas for this stuff. I’m just recreating the things I used to see when I was drinking,” he commented to reporter John Carlisle from the Detroit Free Press. “If you’ve never seen stuff like that pink elephant, you never drank as much as I did.”

Among the humorous works are several that have a more political tone; one, with an American flag, displays the words “Economy/Jobs, Health Care, Education, Iraq, Taxes…;” there is also a large pink pig – a “Genuine North American Corporate Greed Pig” – juxtaposed against the “tiny American worker:” this piece was created at the time of the Enron scandal when hundreds of workers lost their life savings as a result of the financial misdealing of corporate executives. Other sober works include a memorial to the victims of 9-11, and tributes to the U.S. Marines, Michigan loggers, and Union Ironworkers.

Despite the delight of visitors, Lakenen had a series of confrontations with Chocolay Township officials, who objected to everything he did, including having two signs in front (he moved one to the back), serving free hot dogs to visitors (he didn’t have a restaurant license), burning bonfires, constructing a band shell, or – even if unknowingly – allowing unauthorized campers on his property. Just wanting to be left along to do his thing, he nevertheless complied with all requirements, although for a time he erected a sign indicating all were welcome – except for the members of the Township Board. Since that time, however, things have cooled down, as the Township has realized how many visitors he brings to their area, and in 2011 Lakenen was even named the Township’s Citizen of the Year by the local business community.

Lakenen welcomes visitors, winter or summer, and the sculptures are arranged so that a car can drive through the Park if a visitor is not inclined – or not able – to walk the paths. During the winter it has become a resting place for hundreds of snowmobilers: it includes a snowmobile warming station, with open-air pavilion and roaring fire, posted maps of trails, a clean restroom, and free hot chocolate and snacks. He pays for it all himself, helped by the few dollars he receives in a donation can. Lakenen mans the fire each weekend, enjoying that his park has become so popular with such a wide variety of people. It is open 24/7 free of charge.

~Jo Farb Hernández

Map and site information

Cedardale 28th Road
Cornell, Michigan, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 45.934856 / -87.325351

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