About 4 hours northwest of Milwaukee, smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, lies the outdoor museum and sculpture garden Jurustic Park. Here, prehistoric-inspired sculptures are crafted out of reclaimed metal, old cans, bicycle parts, shovel blades, and whatever else Clyve Wynia, an 84-year-old artist and amateur paleontologist, found at the scrap yard recently.
I visit the museum on a quiet, chilly morning in late fall. The address I plug into my GPS is taking me only a few miles outside the city of Marshfield, but I soon feel as if I’m in the middle of nowhere; I wonder if I’ve entered the address wrong. Then I see a small bridge—not quite a drawbridge, but reminiscent of one—guarded on both sides by metal skeletons, fish, miniature monsters, and unidentified dragon-like creations. Surely this is the place.
Though there is a dinosaur theme to the sculptures, I also encounter metal mice, owls, and winged pigs. Fish flower pots (some of which have faces) line the walkway, a large metal dog house is surrounded by matching canine musicians, and a tall tree trunk has been carved into a cartoon-like figure with a top hat. Hundreds of creatures decorate the grounds; some are small enough to fit inside the palm of your hand, others tower more than 20 feet tall. Some are stationary and stoic while others wiggle, jiggle, clink, and clang when the wind blows or when manipulated by a human.
Word around town is that Wynia is quite the character and that a personal encounter with him is just as memorable as seeing his artistic creations. When I arrive, I see him speaking with a young family; they look thoroughly delighted. When they finally leave, I introduce myself and tell Wynia I want to learn more about his art.
“I’m sorry to disappoint,” he says. “But this place is just a pile of junk.”
6,000 bottle caps
With a deadpan expression and the commitment of a stage actor, Wynia leads me around the grounds, unfolding the supposed story of his prehistoric creations, often with the assistance of bad puns. “These metal creatures came from the nearby marsh,” he says, pointing to a 12-foot dragon-like creature made of chains, small garden shovels, and an assortment of metal odds and ends that I’m unable to identify. “Each summer, they jump into the mud to cool themselves down.” He grabs two hand pulleys attached to the articulated dragon, which begins to jiggle and dance as he manipulates its limbs.
According to Wynia, his role is excavating and attempting to recreate the now-extinct creatures that once inhabited the nearby McMillan Marsh during the Iron Age. He says that many of these steel and alloy marsh creatures died out when farming and industry moved into the area in the mid-19th century. Apparently, the creatures were often harvested for their parts, which were then used in farm and industrial machinery. Eventually, over-harvesting led to the extinction of many species, as did acid rain, which caused them to rust over.
Some of his creations are made entirely from new materials, others entirely from old metal, and others are a mix of both. Much of the old metal was reclaimed from scrap yards, while the new metal (which makes up about half of his sculptures) was purchased by Wynia or donated by friends and old clients or fabricators. We pass a sculpture featuring a chain made out of 6,000 bottle caps and I ask if he made it. “I found it at the scrapyard,” he says.
We pass the Kevorkian Gunslinger, a frog holding a U-shaped rifle, and an avian creature he describes as being “three-fourths toucan and one-fourth canary.” He stops to shake hands with an 8-foot-tall metal man named Abe Lawbender, Shysterville Attorney of the law firm Lawbender, Cheatum, Pettifogger, and Skumb (their motto: “Whatever it takes”).
Metal birds and bugs
We’re 20 minutes into the tour, and not once has Wynia broken character. “Be quiet!” he blurts out of nowhere. “This place is bugged!” His own eyes are bugging out of his head as he points to a set of metal bug sculptures on the wall.
Once inside the gift shop, he directs me to a large wooden kaleidoscope. “This is the ‘Clyde-O-Scope,’” he says. “My wife’s husband made it for me.” Across from the kaleidoscope are pictures of some of the local organizations where he’s donated his art. While Wynia does sell small and medium-size pieces, he doesn’t sell his large works. Whatever large pieces aren’t kept at his museum are donated to schools, churches, and domestic abuse shelters. Smaller pieces are also donated to charitable auctions.
Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Wynia was an attorney specializing in estate planning, small business law, and, according to him, “office type” practice. He began making sculptures 28 years ago, while he was still practicing law, and 5 years later, he was a full-time artist.
His first sculpture was a metal bird with a 9-foot wingspan that he hung from a tree in his yard. When a neighbor inquired about it, Wynia said the first thing that came to him: that he had dug the “prehistoric” creature out of the nearby McMillan Marsh. Though Wynia never promoted his sculptures, so many people came to see them over the next 5 years that he began building more.
He still doesn’t have any formal advertising but, according to his log book, Jurustic Park receives about 15,000 visitors per year. Never having much opportunity to travel, Wynia’s favorite part of operating the museum is giving tours and meeting people from all over the world. Last year—in the middle of a global pandemic, no less—Wynia found 34 countries represented in his book. He’s hoping that number continues to grow.
If you go
Jurustic Park is open “most days” in spring, summer, and fall from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is located at 112021 Old Sugar Bush Lane, in Marshfield, Wisconsin.