Although the Kokomo Inn, a once hot spot in Lemmon, sat abandoned for many years until John Lopez, sculptor and Lemmon native, bought and renovated the building to restore its history.
The building is now a community space with a sculpture garden called Boss Cowman Square and an art gallery for the city.
“So, Boss Cowman is our celebration. It’s the second weekend in July, and it’s named after Ed Lemmon,” Lopez explains. “He’s the boss cow man; that was his nickname.”
Lopez was raised in the area and was familiar with Lemmon, eventually making his return to the city.
“I went to high school here in Lemmon and I ended up going to Northern State University in Aberdeen. That’s where I discovered my love of sculpture and casting bronze and then I got a job work for Dale Lamphere in the Black Hills. Everything just kind of sprouted up from there,” Lopez says. After I worked for Dale for a little bit, I started doing the City Presidents project with Dallerie Davis, and so that really opened up a lot of opportunities for me. So, I did the bronze sculpting, bronze casting for about 20 years, and then I transitioned into doing the found object art.”
With his artistic skills, some of Lopez’s own pieces are displayed at the Kokomo Inn for visitors to see.
“So, I really work on the realism, really try to get that spark of life into the animal, so you feel like it could move. And, I really work on trying to make them different than some of the other scrap metal sculptures you see,” he says. “This country is full of piles of scrap metal because people just don’t throw that away. You know, you throw it in the scrap pile behind the shed and you might need to use it someday. And so you’ve got generations of scrap metal that’s piled up and a lot of these characters around here get a kick out of watching their scrap metal get turned into a sculpture, so they want to be involved.”
With his work, Lopez explains that he has a theme that he enjoys and he feels that he excels in it:
“Yeah, my gift is sculpting animals, horses and buffalo and so I’m very passionate about the history here, the animals that are here and I love to tell a story. So, I’ll pick a subject like Hugh Glass due to him being attacked by a grizzly bear, and that’s relevant to this area because it happened here. Or I’ll do a sculpture of Ed Lemmon on a horse or Custer and Sitting Bull, and these sculptures kind of help tell the story.”
But Lopez’s work isn’t just popular and displayed in South Dakota, he’s had pieces sell in other countries and he’s also had pieces requested.
“Well, I’ve had some pieces in Qatar and then Rhodes, France. I have a buffalo there that I was commissioned to do. I also did a piece for Princess Grace’s 90th birthday party. She’s passed on, but her son did this party. So, I did an Oscar, like a life size, six-foot Oscar made out of scrap metal because she’s an Oscar winner. So, that was kind of a crazy experience. I have a map on my website that kind of shows where every piece is located, if you want to go on a scavenger hunt and find them.”
He goes on to explain why he decided to restore the building:
“Well, this part of Main Street was kind of abandoned. The city wanted to do this sculpture of Ed Lemmon, so I bought the two lots that Boss Cowman Square is on and we put that sculpture in and then we painted a mural on the side of this old building. Then I got to looking in the old building because everybody’s like, ‘Well, what happens if the building falls in? That beautiful mural is going to.’ So, I started kind of poking around in here. I was like, ‘this would be a perfect place for a gallery.’ It’s been a great experience. We’ve been here – This will be our sixth summer.”
The Kokomo gallery adds a unique exhibit for people to visit and enjoy in Lemmon.
“The gallery is free to the public and we’d love to have visitors in the summertime and come and check it out. Go through the sculpture garden and Boss Cowman Square, get your picture taken with the wings,” Lopez says. “I’m really proud of Lemmon. We have a lot to do in a day. If somebody drives up from Rapid City, there’s enough to keep you busy for the full day and then you can either spend the night or go home that same day. We’re on the way to Medora, so, we get a lot of people from Minnesota, Wisconsin that are going to Medora and people from Bismarck going to Rapid. We’re really trying to make Lemmon a destination for sure.”