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A Passion For Art

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From paintings and pottery to sculptures and jewelry, Phyllis Bruce gets creative using some unusual items

By Taylor Lynch

Driving through the country north of Malvern, a barbed wire bull can be seen sitting off one of the roads. Up the hill from the bull stands a barbed wire horse. These unique sculptures belong to 63-year-old Phyllis Bruce.

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The art that sits in Bruce’s yard often captures the attention of those who pass by, but that is just a peek at everything she has done and continues to do.

Bruce grew up off the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. She was surrounded by beautiful things. Her passion for art began as a child.

“My mother told me once to paint what I saw,” said Bruce. “So I did, and that is when it all started.”
Bruce paints and sketches nearly all the time. Her walls are covered with her own artwork. She paints whatever she sees, from scenery around her home to scenery on vacations.  She spends 20 to 30 hours a week creating art.

One afternoon, she helped Malvern artist Zack Jones while he was painting the historic church he has turned into his home and studio. Jones has advised Bruce on how to do coloring in her paintings. She is always working with oils and trying to improve herself with her art.

Painting and drawing is how it started with Bruce, but now she does pottery, makes jewelry, paints scenery and backdrops for plays and sculpts things out of various materials.

Bruce never leaves her art supplies, but when she does forget to pack them on vacation, she improvises. There was one trip she forgot her supplies and she ended up using rocks to form images.

When it comes to materials, Bruce gets creative. She finds her inspiration through whatever she can find lying around.

“I look at things and ask myself, ‘what can I make out of this stuff,’” Bruce said. “I hate to throw something away that has the potential to be pretty.”

While running errands one day, Bruce noticed people throwing away Styrofoam blocks in a parking lot. She approached them and asked if she could take them home because she saw potential in them.

She now carves sculptures from Styrofoam but makes them look like they were carved from stone or other heavy materials.

Her favorite piece of her own work is what she calls the Dramatized Bald Spotiss. This sculpture was made from Styrofoam for a play at Nishna Valley School. They needed a bust prop that a child could carry easily but looked heavy. 

The horse was Bruce’s first barbwire sculpture.

“A pile of barbed wire sat for 20 years,” said Bruce. “I just thought: I could make something with that.”

Bruce started with a miniature model that consisted of one continuous piece of barbed wire. When she began the actual sculpture, she started with the legs. As she added on, the barbed wire twisted and crumpled in. She then took it all a part and asked her husband, Elmer Bruce, if he would weld a frame for the horse.

Once the frame was made, Bruce was able to make the horse, until it tipped over because it was top-heavy. To counter the weight, she added to the tail to make it heavier.

The final sculpture weighed 600 to 700 pounds and took a few years to complete.

“I don’t know what got into me,” Bruce said. “I could have done something small but I didn’t.”
She has also made a bull out of barbed wire, which sits near the road going by her house. Her husband welded a matador to go along side the bull.

The barbed wire sculptures take Bruce years to complete. She has been working on an elephant for a year already and still has work to do on it that includes attaching ears and a leg, as well as touching it up.

Although Bruce’s art pieces have caught the eye of those who drive by her home, she said she does not participate in many art shows.  However, she has won the Grand Prize for Sculpture in a Duluth, Minn., art show. She also participates in the annual Southwest Iowa Art Tour in September.

Bruce and her husband welcome visitors who want to stop and look at the pieces in their yard, located at 54966 325th St. They enjoy sharing their art with others.