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Lexington sculptor talks community-supported art, a scrap metal elephant — and running for president

In the foreground, a man with a greying beard, blue and black winter coat and grey ski cap smiles at the camera with crossed arms. He stands in front of an elephant sculpture made of scrap metal pieces. In the background, a sign marker reads "Lexington"
Lauren Warnecke
Kasey Wells of Lexington began touring the country in 2019 with his large metal elephant (pictured) as part of his run for the presidency. Now, the sculpture is prominently featured on Route 66.

On the east side of old Route 66 as you approach Lexington, there’s an 11-foot elephant statue called “American Standard” made of scrap metal and other trinkets. But this is not your typical roadside attraction — it’s the political platform of artist Kasey Wells, who ran for president as a write-in candidate in 2020.

Wells created the piece with Chicago artist Kyle Riley and carted it thousands of miles on a trailer during his campaign.

“I thought, I can’t just sit around and wait for some other politician to voice all the things I’m seeing that I’m concerned about,” Wells said. “I decided to be the change I want to see in the world.”

Before it came to rest at the corner of Route 66 and Main Street in Lexington, Wells toted “American Standard” across the country as a conversation starter in his bid for the Oval Office. If you get up close, you can see his campaign promises written on hubcaps and oil tanks.

The elephant wears a gold crown with “Standard Oil” painted in red, white and blue. Wells ran as a left-leaning independent interested in divesting from the oil and gas industry, transforming the Federal Reserve and putting an end to war, among other things.

How did he learn what he needed to know to build a platform, run a campaign and navigate the electoral process? Google, mainly.

“The information’s out there,” he said, “it's just, you’ve got to dig into it for yourself to find it.”

A portion of his campaign was funded by prize money when “American Standard” won Best in Show and the People’s Choice award in a sculpture contest in Lenoir, North Carolina, garnering $3,500.

When the race ended, “American Standard” was parked in Wells' yard for several months before the city endorsed a resting place on Route 66.

“American Standard” sits across the street from a Freedom gas station, adjacent to a historical marker pointing out Standard Oil subsidiary filling stations during Route 66’s heyday. The spot is rife with symbolism, but Wells still owns the piece and can move it or sell it at any point.

Additional scrap metal sculptures Wells created as commissions are scattered all over Lexington — he mostly gave up commissions when he started “American Standard” and his campaign. Those works are placed in front and side yards of private homes, viewable from the road. Find a bird with feathers made of lawn mower blades in Lexington, and it’s likely Kasey Wells made it.

Trained in fine art and arts technology at Illinois State University, Wells picked up sculpture and scrapping on his own while looking for a way to be his own boss and get out from underneath the gallery economy.

His latest piece is “American Eagle,” a 5,000-pound eagle and serpent sculpture created in 2021 for the now defunct ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"What better symbol of our country than the eagle? But that year was kind of crazy, so I needed to juxtapose that with some kind of venomous forces up against us,” Wells said.

He brought home $28,500 in prize money from Grand Rapids, but “American Eagle” is currently sitting in his workshop. He hopes to sell it.

As with his earlier birds, Wells used mower blades in the wings and breast that, when tapped with another piece of metal, create a tuning fork effect. Silver watch bands cover the eagle’s head, and its characteristic white tipped feathers are made from aluminum that won’t rust over time.

Wells is done with politics for now. And when art doesn’t pay the bills, he earns money in the scrap metal trade. He’s also experimenting with graphic design and selling NFTs online.

“Since I went through the motions of running a campaign and doing the best I could with it within the budget I had, it helped me to put politics at rest — to not worry so much about things I can’t change. I’m more focused on my family.”

Wells said he also feels blessed to be part of a community that supports his art.

“I know where all these things came from,” he said, noting that “American Eagle” is community sourced by about 30 people who contributed metal to the project. “That’s really touching to me.”

View “American Standard” at the corner of Old Route 66 and Main Street in Lexington. For more information on Kasey Wells, visit kaseywells.weebly.com.

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Lauren Warnecke is a part-time reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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