Life

Farmer turns art into cash crop

Randy Schnebbe with his rock and metal sculpture
Randy Schnebbe with his rock and metal sculpture "Tebow," contemplates farming versus art.
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With commodity and livestock prices being what they are, many farmers are looking at alternative crops as a possible solution for soft markets. Hemp, aronia berries, and different cover crops are being experimented with. One farm family, Randy Schnebbe and his wife AJ (Amy Jo), south of Victor, turned to art. Most farmers are jacks-of-all-trades (and masters of none). They know how to weld, and make things with their hands using what they have. Most farms also have junk iron scattered around, and even a rock pile or two, from rocks they drag in out of the fields.

What if?

For the Schnebbes, on their 300 acre family farm, it was “get big or get out.” He had to do something “to support my farming habit.” The Schnebbes were operating a business, Amish Creations in Victor, selling indoor and outdoor Amish furniture. Along with the outdoor furniture, they added a line of Mexican yard art. But a lot of the yard art was cheaply made, and Randy would have to reweld or repair it. He told AJ, “You know, I can do better than this.”

“Go ahead,” she said. “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”

At one of the outdoor shows they attended, Randy and AJ met a man from Oklahoma who made yard art. He showed Randy a few tricks of the trade. Randy and AJ were off and running.

One of their first purchases was a plasma cutter and table for $21,000. It was a huge investment, but compared to a tractor or combine — small potatoes. They also licensed their business, RS Welding Studio, with the University of Iowa, Iowa State, Drake, UNI, and Kansas State University (where AJ graduated), so they can legally make the universities’ logos, emblems and knickknacks.

The rest is history. They never dreamed their business could do so well. Randy is the artist, AJ is the detail person and business head. They’re a great team. On any given weekend they are off separately in a truck pulling a trailer to lawn and garden shows in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Nebraska. Their biggest market is the Farmers Market in downtown Des Moines, which is the second largest Farmers Market in the country. Their iron art is all over the United States and the world. Check out their website at www.rsweldingstudio.com.

Some of their main products are critters made with rocks and iron, like rock ants, and rock caterpillars. Seasonally, people go nuts for winter ball ornaments that they can decorate themselves at the point of purchase. During Randy and AJ’s first year of making the winter ball ornaments they sold 700 and thought they had pretty well saturated the market. However, the second year it was 1,800, and the third year 2,900. They have three people working part time, and crews that go with them to shows.

That’s the small art. For the big sculptures, Randy is in his element. He built a seven foot tall, very detailed, corn plant out of rebar for Congressman Rod Blum. Blum is no longer in office but he left the metal corn plant for his successor. One day Randy was watching television and saw a senator giving a speech in front of the corn plant. Sweet! He was Iowa proud!

The employees of Metal Craft in Mayville, Wisconsin commissioned Randy to build a huge metal Legacy Tree as a gift to the owner of the company. It took Randy nine months to fabricate, but the employees and owner loved it. On each leaf is a word the employees used to describe the owner--“kind” “friendly” “Godly” etc. The Legacy Tree is Randy’s proudest

accomplishment.

He also made a 10 foot tall cross out of rebar for a church in Williamsburg. It is so stunning, Randy wants to make another one for his own grave marker when he passes away (which won’t be for quite awhile).

RS Welding Studio is located a mile north of I-80 at exit 205. You can’t miss it. There’s a huge spider in the front yard made from a boulder for the body and, of course, rebar for the legs. When we spotted the spider, we did a U-turn and that’s how Ginnie and I met Randy and AJ Schnebbe.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm at 319-217-0526, email him a curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com