Metal sculptor reflects on trout sculpture, future work, Netflix fame

Images by Brooke Elizabeth

Ivan Iler is a Michigan-based metal sculptor and kinetic artist whose work takes inspiration largely from nature, particularly animals. Ivan Iler believes his best work is still to come.

One would be forgiven for thinking otherwise because the St. Johns metal sculptor and kinetic artist’s body of work includes the world’s largest brown trout sculpture and will soon include a “mother tree” sculpture and a “kinetic welder,” to name a few.

“Somebody once asked me what is my favorite piece of artwork that I’ve ever made. My answer was whatever it is I’m doing right then,” said Iler. “I’m constantly wanting to do the next thing.”

People recognize Iler and his work much more than ever before, whether it be because the sculptor became a record breaker or because he appeared on Netflix’s “Metal Shop Masters.” The increased spotlight has brought with it new opportunities, like sculpting limited-edition pieces or working with bronze.

Whatever lies ahead, Iler said admirers and customers alike should expect him to top himself every time.

“I’m never going to be satisfied with what I’ve done or what I’m doing. I’m constantly trying to move to the next level, to up my game,” he said.

Iler, 38, is inspired by the world around him, particularly nature. He rarely does abstract designs.

“Most of my work are things that are tangible, things you can see. From there, inspiration kind of flows one way or another. You never know where an idea may come from,” he said.

One of his most recognizable pieces is a 25-ft.-tall brown trout sculpture in Baldwin, Mich., the largest of its kind in the world. Iler used aluminum for the brown trout’s skin and steel tube for the skeleton.

Iler’s work as a metal sculptor has grown over the years as people have begun to recognize him more. Among his more notable pieces is a 25-ft.-tall brown trout sculpture in Baldwin, Michigan.

On the skin: “Instead of going over the frame, the skin floated in between sections. So, you’d have spots that were just empty in between certain parts of the framework. You would just have patch panels that were formed out and rolled out onto an English wheel. [The sculpture] ended up having a lot of negative space.”

To give the brown trout a spotted-skin look, Iler plasma-cut aluminum rings and riveted them to parts of the skin where holes were made.

He then sent his work to Powder Coat of Central Michigan in Ithaca for powder coating. He avoids adding color to most of his pieces, but in this case it was necessary to help distinguish the trout.

“I don’t like to. It’s the only large public sculpture I have that has that much powder coating on it. Normally I’ll just powder coat certain aspects and let the metal speak for itself,” he said.

Iler had heard the previous record holder stood at around 20 ft. He wanted to break that record.

“It’s kind of nice knowing you built something that is the world’s largest of its kind,” Iler said.

The Michigan sculptor hopes two of his upcoming projects will wow viewers as much as the trout. A COR-TEN and stainless steel “mother tree” sculpture will be installed in Lansing, Mich., this spring.

The 20-ft.-tall sculpture will depict a woman coming out of the ground.

“It’s like she’s rooted into the ground, coming out of the ground like she’s growing. She has her arms spread out and her fingers and arms are turning into branches and leaves,” he said. “That’s going to be a big piece.”

Iler’s incorporation of moving parts into sculptures will be on display once his life-size “kinetic welder” is completed. It will travel with the metalworking equipment supplier Quantum Machinery Group to tradeshows and is made from aluminum, stainless, and COR-TEN steel.

Iler’s body of work includes sculptures using a variety of metals, such as this stainless steel barn owl.

“It’s all just cams I’ve carved out. As the cams spin, it makes him move and he runs through a series of movements and then comes back and starts over and repeats,” he said.

Iler’s metal fabrication career has come a long way since he first learned to weld as a teenager two decades ago. He’s shifted to doing metal arts fabrication full time. While he still does some motorcycle repair work, he describes it as more of a side project.

“Being able to just focus on the artwork for a living … when you get to a point in life where you can look around you and feel like you’re where you want to be, there’s no feeling quite like that,” Iler said.

His work received a boost in 2021 when he competed in “Metal Shop Masters.” The reality show pitted Iler against six others in a last-person-standing competition to find its top metal artist.

Contestants have become like family to him.

“There’s so many times people will say, ‘Oh, let’s keep in touch.’ But after being on that show together, we didn’t just say it, we actually did it,” Iler said. “I’ve gone and stayed with [contestant Frank Ledbetter], I met his family and stayed with them. I’ve gone to Vegas to stay with [contestant Luis Varela-Rico] and met his mother.”

He gets recognized a bit more, which “as an artist is very handy,” he said.

A rise in celebrity has helped Iler approach new ideas, like mass production of his artwork. He plans on making limited-edition bronze sculptures to make his artwork more accessible to people.

He’s had people inquire about his sculptures only to back away because of the cost.

“I’ve had a lot of people wanting my artwork. But then they find out the price on getting something custom made, getting a commissioned piece, it’s out of their price range,” he said.

Bronze is a metal Iler wants to work with more. It is a softer metal and one that poses its own unique challenges, he said. Thing is, he likes to challenge himself and hopes to incorporate bronze into his kinetic sculptures.

On his legacy: “I would be honored to have a piece of my artwork show up on ‘Antiques Roadshow’ 200 years after I’ve died.”

[Originally published in the Fabricator]

Special 2023 season planned for Performance Shell

Welcome to 2023. This is going to be a very special season for the William E. Tennant Performance Shell as well as you, their loyal followers, attendees and concert-goers.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Music in the Park concert series. Reviewing and combing through all the amazing talent to try to narrow it down this year’s acts will be a difficult task for the committee.

Because they are working on that schedule now, a finalized season schedule may not appear until later in the Spring. This is a special year and organizers want to see record crowds every week to celebrate this milestone.

Hazel Findlay Manor graduates Nurse Aides

Congratulations to Hazel Findlay’s recent Nurse Aide Training Program graduates.

The next class starts February 6. Apply today at or call Madison at 989-224-8936 with questions. It’s not too late.

Remember When – St. Johns Police reintroduce K-9 Patrols in 2012

Chief Michael Madden placed into service a canine program for the St. Johns Police Department last Friday, and introduced Dutch Shepherd “Duke” with his K-9 handler Officer Ben Helms and his trainer Cheryl Carlson.

Chief Madden extended special thanks to Cher Car Kennels of St. Johns, especially owner Cheryl Carlson. “This program would not be happening if not for the extreme generosity of Cheryl”, said Chief Madden.

“They not only donated the dog but also the training, a value of $11,000! We are fortunate that one of the most highly respected Police Dog trainers in the Midwest is located here in St. Johns”, says Madden.

“Ms. Carlson is one of the best know experts in the industry.” She has been training and breeding dogs professionally since 1977, and instituted the Police K-9 units for the MSU Police, Ingham County Sheriff Department, East Lansing Police Department, Eaton County Sheriff Department and the Lansing Police Department, among others. Cheryl has trained and certified over fifty (50) police K-9’s from the ground up, many of her own breeding.

The Dutch Shepherd, named “Duke” was bred by Cher Car Kennels and has been trained in narcotics detection. Madden said, “drug abuse and trafficking have been steadily increasing in the St. Johns area for the past several years. Having a K-9 unit will deter drug use and catch drug dealers that frequent St. Johns.”

In addition to narcotics detection, Duke will be trained in tracking and apprehension. He will be able to do building searches, track lost subjects or criminals evading arrest, and protect his handler from physical harm. Officer Ben Helms, the K-9 handler for Duke, has also received extensive training.

Maralyn’s Pet Corner – Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Cat

Prevention goes a long way in staving off problems—especially when caring for a cat. By taking proactive steps to keep your fur baby healthy, you’re more likely to enjoy many happy years together (up to 14 or more, to be exact). Read on for some tips and tricks to maximize the years spent with your kitty.
Your Cat Needs the Essentials

Food Bowls

To be a successful cat parent, you need the right gear. Many of us think of no-brainers like food and water right away, but some things are more subtle—like nice, flat, wide bowls for that food and water so kitty doesn’t bump her whiskers while enjoying it. In place of a water bowl, you can opt for a cat water fountain— there’s some research that fountains make house cats healthier, too.


And then there’s the litterbox. Who likes small, cramped, smelly port-a-potties? Not us, and not our cats. Research has shown that cats like a litter pan that is 1.5 times the length of their body, including the tail—which is HUGE! And most cats seem to prefer a pan without a cover. They even have litter preferences: Most cats will choose a dust-free, scent-free clumping litter that’s about 1.5 inches deep in the pan. Who knew?

Cat Carrier

One item commonly overlooked is the cat carrier. Many people equate putting cats in a carrier with rides in the car and decide that, because Fluffy won’t travel often, they probably don’t need one. But what if there’s an emergency and your cat is injured or seriously ill? It’s recommended to have at least one medium-sized carrier per cat, and one that loads from the top is often the quickest and easiest for a kitty that isn’t totally cooperative about getting inside. Why choose a top-loader? Gravity is on your side.

Cat Toys

And don’t forget that everyone, kitties included, needs a little fun. Many cats love to play with toys—some will even play fetch with stuffed mice or jingly balls. Cat trees and perches located near windows go hand-in-paw with bird feeders outside to provide hours of entertainment (for humans and felines alike). Not to mention the joy of a laser cat toy.

Nutrition Is Key

An array of cat foods is available, so ask your veterinarian for help in choosing a diet plan tailored for your cat.

Veterinarians have found that, as a rule, cats do seem to be healthier when fed canned foods. The risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease is lower when cats are fed portioned amounts of canned cat foods, namely because of the lower amounts of carbohydrates in these diets. Even “low-carb” dry foods have a lot of carbs compared to an average wet food, so these differences are important to consider. But this precaution doesn’t translate to “all dry foods are bad.” Just know that if you choose to feed your cat dry food, portion control is critical because it’s very easy for kitties to overeat on these carbohydrate-rich diets.

Most people choose to “meal feed” cats—in other words, put a portion down at a certain time and let the cat eat when he chooses to. At the next set time, another portion goes into the bowl. Having this set schedule prevents your cat from grazing all day long and consuming too many calories. But once a day isn’t enough, so if you choose this method, feed your cat a portion of her calories two to three times per day. Your veterinarian can help you to determine what an appropriate portion size is.

Keep the Litterbox Clean

No one likes cleaning the litterbox, but it’s an important role for all cat parents. Cats are picky about where they eliminate, and if the box is smelly and gross, they won’t want to go in. A dirty litter pan is the biggest reason why cats choose to turn other areas of your home, like the bathtub or that pile of laundry you’ve been meaning to put away, into their personal toilet.

Keeping up with scooping can also alert you to medical problems. Are those puddles of urine getting bigger or smaller? Both can indicate a health issue. How about the stool—is it getting smaller? All kinds of answers can be found to medical questions in the litter pan, and it is easier to notice health problems more quickly if you pay close attention to the litter box.

So, how often should you clean the litterbox? Here’s a breakdown:

– Scoop out all waste at least once per day.
– Dump, wash, clean, and dry the box at least once per week.
– Throw away the box and purchase a new one at least once per year, as plastic holds not-so-nice residues and smells that your cat will notice over time.

Stay on Top of Grooming

Cats are famous for grooming themselves, so why do they need any help from us when they already do such a great job? One big reason: hairballs.

When kitty grooms, all that hair has to go somewhere. And usually, that means into the stomach. Sometimes it will pass through into the stool, but other times it comes back up and you find a surprise on your floor. Save yourself future clean-up by brushing your cat with a soft, bristled brush.

Another brush or comb you want in your grooming kit is one designed specifically to remove matted hair. Most cats develop the occasional tangle, and it’s much easier to use a brush while the mess is small rather than wait until it becomes unruly. Severe tangles often need to be shaved off, so catching them early is easier for you and your cat.

Flea combs are also important. If you aren’t already treating your cat monthly with flea prevention (which is strongly recommended), use a flea comb on your cat every week to catch any fleas.

The other critical aspect of grooming is nail clipping. Although cats will remove the sheaths from their nails and sharpen them, nails can (and do) overgrow, resulting in painful ingrown nails that often become infected.

Kitties with extra toes are especially prone to this problem. Overly long nails can also get stuck in things when a cat tries to stretch or scratch on a post, and she can accidentally scratch you during playtime. Keeping those nails short are in everyone’s best interest, so trim them weekly.

Stay Consistent with Veterinarian Appointments

Don’t forget the cornerstone of a healthy kitty: finding problems early! Your feline friend may look healthy to you, but would you notice if she lost a few ounces over the last year? Probably not, but your veterinarian should.

What about if he developed some dental tartar, a lump on a nipple, or a cyst in the ear? All these things are common in cats, and exactly the type of things veterinarian look for in routine veterinary appointments. And all of them are much easier—and cheaper—to treat when caught early.

Taking your cat to annual wellness exams goes a long way in keeping her healthy. Your vet will check kitty from head to tail tip and administer vaccines, heartworm medications, and flea and tick control as needed. The veterinarian will also be able to help advise you on any necessary diet adjustments or other concerns.

On average, most cats under the age of 7 can go into the veterinary hospital just once per year (once they have finished their kitten vaccines and checkups, that is). Once turning 8, most cats should see a veterinarian twice per year. Your kitty may need to be seen even more often if there are any specific health concerns that need to be managed.