Off the Beaten Path: Junkyard Art in Michigan

Patti and Tom Burkett

A  trip took us to the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Our way home took us along M-28, on the southern shore of Lake Superior, where we passed a colorful metal sign advertising “Junkyard Art.” 

Pulling off into a surprisingly large parking area, we chuckled at a sign that said, ‘Donations welcome but not expected.’  As we sat in the lot getting our bearings, a man driving an ancient tractor rolled past, giving us a wave and a smile.

The man was Tom Lakenen.  Lakenen grew up in a family of construction workers, and in mid-life happily spent his days on the job site and his evenings drinking beer with his friends.  After a few too many years of this, his wife laid down the law—quit drinking or else.

“I needed something to do in my off time if I wasn’t going out drinking,” he says, “so I started bringing home scrap metal from the job and making things.”

His first efforts went into the front yard of his house, and soon drew a warning from the local officials—no signage on residential property.  The pieces were trundled off into the back yard, and a few years later were moved to a larger piece of land down the road.  Tom continued to work, bending, welding, painting and imagining.  He scraped roads through the property and began arranging his work.

Though he never trained as an artist, there’s obvious talent in the clever and fanciful creations on display.  If you’re small, you can climb inside a pink elephant and have a tea party at the table hidden there.

Bigger people can picnic on an industrial size saw blade crafted into a picnic table under a shelter that looks hewn from living trees.  Politics, religion, environmental issues?  None are off limits to Lakenen’s fertile mind.  You’ll laugh, puzzle, ponder, and look twice as you wander along the roads of this drive-through gallery.

We discovered later that this attraction is especially popular with snowmobilers, who are legion in the Michigan winter.  The artist will often build a big bonfire and hand out snacks and hot drinks while visiting with his guests.  The collection continues to grow and change, so no two visits are likely to be the same.  No matter the weather, you can enjoy the Lakenenland Sculpture Park west of Marquette, Michigan on M-28.




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