Story Collected by Sharanitha Sampath    

When people walk by Joanna Colligan’s house, there are two things that people notice instantly. Firstly, it is the intoxicating smell of her flowers that waft through the air. Secondly, it is the beautiful sculptures that litter her garden and light it up at night.

At the beginning of every summer, my neighbor, Joanna goes to work in her garden. She slowly transitions all of her decorations out of the garage and places it throughout her yard.  At night, the scene is brought to life by the wonderful lighting fixtures and decorations she has incorporated. Each figure resembles animals and insects that are found in nature and gardens. One particular sculpture is a butterfly made of recycled metal wires. Another is a metal frog that sits on a lily pad. The lily pad itself is constructed from a mosaic of green tiles. Light will sometimes reflect off the glass and paint the wall beside it in vibrant shades of green.

Joann’s father, Bruce Colligan, is the man responsible for creating all of her decorations and sculptures. Bruce used to be an engineer and now dedicates his free time to his hobby of metalworking. The art of manipulating metal is a skill set that has been passed down for generations in their family. “I never cared to learn how to do it at first,” Joanna admits. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when she went back to Iowa to visit her family that she began to show an interest in her dad’s hobby. 

It all started when she asked him to create some sculptures for her garden with solar powered lighting. Bruce decided to take his daughter on a trip to scavenge for scrap metal. Her interest was piqued when she looked at the types of materials that he picked up. Many were acquired from side streets where people had thrown out old furniture or were donated to him by his neighbors. He would take materials like the wire coils from couches and mattresses to reuse. Joanna remembers getting especially excited when they would find kitchen utensils that could be incorporated into her father’s sculptures.

At first, she left the actual practice of metalworking to her father, but soon he had her involved with that too. “It was hard work manipulating the metal, but the final product filled me with a sense of pride. The fact that I could share that experience with my father made it that much more enjoyable,” Joanna reminisces. She recalled the hours she spent hammering out strips of metal and twisting them in order to create the antennae for the butterfly. One of her favorite memories was about the creation of her penny flower. Joanna was in charge of taking their old pennies and running it through a flattening machine. She would run the coins through, elongating the pennies until they took the form of a petal shape. Her father would then sear the pieces together to form a sort of metal flower composed entirely of copper petals.

To this day, anyone who visits her house will spend time outside admiring her garden and the sculptures that are laced through it. At night, people are greeted by the sight of her lit pathway that is fueled by the energy from the sun. Her father’s habit of repurposing materials has now overflowed into her own life. She will take old glass jars and use them for storage or to drink lemonade out of in the summer. Joanna hopes to learn more about her family tradition of metalworking when she visits her father again this summer. Perhaps she will even add few of her own creatures to her garden when she returns.