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It flaps its mechanical wings, gazes with unfeeling plastic eyes over traffic and – every eight minutes – kicks its metal legs.
A couple of weeks ago, kinetic sculptor Mike Miller installed his latest piece, a mechanical dragonfly, on a roughly 20-foot-high pole at 14th and Broadway.
It was commissioned by Ken Pham, whose yard the mechanized dragonfly presides over.
Pham said he asked Miller to create “something neat and different” for him, after seeing Miller’s work on display at a Final Friday event last summer.
Miller pitched the idea of a dragonfly, and Pham loved it. Pham, who is originally from Vietnam, attributes symbolism to the dragonfly.
“It’s an angel,” Pham said of the dragonfly, which perhaps closer resembles a creature out of a Tim Burton film than an angelic figure.
The dragonfly is 20 feet wide, 22 feet long and weighs about 1,500 pounds. Its head is made of Winfield limestone. Its body (and spindly structure) is actually the remnants of a fallen hedge tree. Bright mosaic-esque color on the dragonfly’s body comes from chopped-up, salvaged parking-lot signs from Wichita State University, which were previously destined for the dumpster. The dragonfly’s legs are made from an old trampoline frame. Its eyes are plastic circles taken from an old stoplight.
Miller estimates he has sunk 1,500 to 2,000 hours into the sculpture, as it was “an all-day-long, everyday, seven-days-a-week thing for weeks and weeks and weeks.”
For Miller, it’s an exercise in re-use, and a continuation of a theme present in all his sculpture work.
“All of my stuff is about the machine/nature interface, thinking about everything as a machine,” Miller said. “There’s man-made machines and there’s nature-made machines. … The tree and the rock are the natural machines, and the wings and legs and the motor that power all of that are the man-made machines. So it’s a little bit of a cyborg bug.”
All of Miller’s recent works have featured this juxtaposition of “natural machines,” like trees and rocks, and “man-made machines,” he said.
“All mechanisms are exposed and understandable. In this way I hope to show that as human technology advances the difference between natural and human-made machines will decrease until they eventually blend together,” Miller wrote in an artist’s statement. “The merging of the two is a good thing, not to be feared.”
It is more than just quirky yard art for Pham, who is a painter himself. Pham is the owner of Freestyle Sign Co., just a few blocks north on Broadway.
His yard decor is as much a statement on his world view as it is of his particular taste in decorating.
Pham immigrated to the United States near the end of the Vietnam War and was grateful for the second chance America offered him, he said.
Pham is extremely patriotic as a result – he talks of his appreciation for and support of American troops before he ever speaks of himself.
His yard is filled with vintage Army vehicles and fire trucks.
He flies a banner in his yard that reads, “Never Forget.”
He has a “Battlefield Cross” erected on a 4-foot-high stone pedestal near his porch.
On the wall of his business five blocks to the north, he and his daughter painted a large mural of an angel touching the shoulder of an American soldier.
“I also have the painting on my shop to let the soldiers know we all care,” Pham said. “They serve this country, you know. Let them know that we pray for them.”
As for living right on North Broadway? Pham likes it – “it’s home.”
“People think it’s scary … a long time ago, yes, but not today – 2017 is different,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends that ask me where I live, and I say Broadway. They’re like ‘You live on Broadway?’ What’s wrong with that? See the restaurant right there? I can walk there easy. I have a lawyer right there. I can walk right over there,” he said, with a chuckle.