50 Artists to Watch: John Lopez

Sculptor John Lopez is a product of a place. His people’s ranches are scattered along the Grand River in northwestern South Dakota – not far from where Sitting Bull was born and died; not far from where thousands of buffalo were killed during the westward expansion of settlers and gold miners; in the bone yards of Tyrannosaurus rex and grizzly bears. Since farmers and ranchers populated this chunk of reservation land, real cowboys have been roping and branding and sheering and haying and harvesting

John’s own forte lies in gentling colts and perfecting their bloodlines – and he started his celebration of them by sculpting in clay. Capturing every nuance, every muscle, in this land where business is still conducted over a cup of coffee and “neighboring” is a way of life. Somehow that way of life – where time seems to have stood still – has seen the transition from horsepower to vehicles. The rusted carcasses of discarded equipment stand testament to generations of labor. And John Lopez has picked through them, choosing the elements of the past – the actual implements that plowed the soil or cut the grain or dug the dinosaur – and created the curve of a jaw, the twitch of a tail, the power of a shoulder. John designs his sculptures using these found pieces from kitchens and scrap piles, barns and grain elevators, cemeteries and workshops – relics of people on the prairie.

These life-size sculptures – horses, bison, even a T-Rex – can be found across South Dakota and the nation. They all can be easily identified by John’s signature style.  

Lopez recently dedicated “Boss Cowman Square” a new park in Lemmon featuring his latest work, a larger-than-life-size sculpture of Ed Lemmon on a horse. John is also refurbishing an old building right next to the park in Lemmon that will be a gallery of his work, open to the public. You can also check out his YouTube channel for some entertaining and informative videos.



50 Artists to Watch is a special project we’re embarking on in celebration of our 50th anniversary at the South Dakota Arts Council. This series of short artist features is intended to share the work of South Dakota artists on a wide platform. It is not intended as a list of top or best artists. It is not presented in any particular order. Featured artists are being selected from nominations sent to us. You can nominate an artist by emailing sdac@state.sd.us. We can’t include them all, but we’ll keep all nominations on a list for future features and blogs.

We welcome your continued suggestions for 50 Artists to Watch and your (constructive) comments about the work of those being featured.

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