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Kadoka's Incredible Metal
It takes little rain to turn Badlands soil to gumbo, but little sunshine to dry it out. When I turned off Highway 73 onto Swift Horse Road south of Kadoka, the sun had begun its work; the lightly-graveled three-mile road to Brett and Tammy Prang’s Frying Pan Ranch had dried enough that I didn’t get stuck, but it was sticky enough that when I pulled up to Brett’s shop, the car was a ball of mud.
Brett was polishing the steel of a big buffalo skull. Nearby stood a man-sized steel man, Willie Yellow Hawk, still awaiting finishing touches when I was there in 2005. “He was a working cuss,” Brett said, nodding to the likeness of a long-time neighbor in this remote northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. “I ran over Willie with the tractor,” Brett said — “the sculpture, that is, to bend the steel.”
As my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light inside the shop, dozens of unique objects came into view — arrows, feathers, busts and beasts, all of them bent, hammered and welded from steel.
Prang first began playing with metal almost 30 years ago, picking up odd scraps of iron and welding them together, just to see what would emerge. “One night I was playing basketball with some guys, and I started dinking around with some bolts and nuts and nails, and a monster emerged,” he said. “I made quite a few things back then, just to give away.” But Brett didn’t think of himself as an artist; it was all for fun. Then in 1999, Tammy asked Brett to make her an arrow curtain rod, and their artistic life at Incredible Metal was born.
Of the many sculptures Brett has created with Tammy’s help, one stands out — literally. A 38-foot iron cross looms on the bluff above the Prang home, at the family cemetery where Brett’s ancestors lie. There’s no better word for the cross than unique. Sure, somebody could copy the general design, but nobody — not even Brett — could truly duplicate it; many of the items welded into the structure are one of a kind.
Brett and Tammy and grandson Colton took me up the hill for a look at the cross that, with the help of a crane, they erected on Memorial Day 2003. From on top of the hill, the panhandled bluff that gave the ranch its “frying pan” name and brand comes into view — as does most everything else for a dozen miles. But majestic as the landscape is, it’s hard to keep your eyes off the cross.
At its four feet are welded the family branding irons, including those of two of Brett and Tammy’s sons. The vertical and horizontal spans are linked by a pair of wheels from a horse-drawn road grader like the one Brett’s great-grandfather, Cap Pettyjohn, used to build ranch roads. Above that is a cousin’s locomotive bell, which can be rung with a rope. Below the crossbar is a lexicon of cast-off farm and ranch junk, the kind of iron pile that grows behind many a shop, but assembled in an order that might make sense to one man — a posthole digger, brake shoes, a huge threading die, an axe head, pulleys, levers, gears, a tire wrench, a chain boomer, clutch housing, chisel sweeps, disk blades, nuts and bolts. “We put the rake and pitchfork way up high, so we can’t do any more work with them," Brett chuckled.
Back down at the ranch house, Tammy showed me her art, too, mostly tooled leatherwork — barstool covers, lampshades, feather art, and a magnificent cover for their art album. She also grinds Brett’s steel work to a smooth finish. She’s actually been creating art since 7th grade, when she sold tooled leather bracelets to friends at Belvedere School for a dollar.
“I guess Brett and I are a team at everything we do,” she said. “I don’t think of myself as an artist, really.” She had me fooled. But at that moment, grandson Colton and I were most attracted to the art Tammy removed from the oven — a big pan of cinnamon rolls, served hot with a glass of cool water from the spring.
Editor's Note: This story is revised from the March/April 2005 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.
Scrappy Comes Home to Kadoka
|Tammy Prang photo.|
Scrappy, Brett and Tammy Prang’s 17-foot-tall deer sculpture, has had a long journey since his creation. The piece was commissioned by Gene & Ruth Lehmann of Kerrville, Texas to honor family members and others who attended local Tivy High School. (Scrappy has been the name of the Tivy Antlers' mascot since 1932.) The sculpture was on display at the entrance to the Lehmanns’ Dragon Springs Ranch for a few short years, until they decided to put the giant metal buck onto the auction block to raise funds for Tivy High School. Brett will be driving to Texas soon to bring Scrappy to his new home near his South Dakota birthplace. Look for Scrappy this summer at Mark & Tammy Carlson’s Discount Fuel in Kadoka.