Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sculptural Diversity at Mel Schettl's

Daughter Number Three drove to Mel Schettl's Freight Sales
at Butte des Morts (Hill of the Dead), near Oshgosh, Wisconsin. She sent out a web post with the photos here, of some of the wild things available at Mel's. You'll find this description at RoadsideAmerica.com:

Mel Schettl opened his home improvement business here in 1973. The property that surrounds the building is littered with hundreds of larger-than-life statues: a moose, a bull, a bulldog; King Kong, Bugs Bunny; dinosaurs, mythological creatures; and weird metal sculptures like a robot stegosaurus and a shark on wheels.

"It's something that's just kinda grown," says Mel. "We don't build the stuff. We consign with different artists to build it for us -- fiberglass, steel, glass -- over 200 sculptures so far. Anything to get attention, I guess."

Visitors recommend stopping by at night to better appreciate the creepiness of the place. Says Mel: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Mel's is an "out-of-mall experience," where you can purchase everything from that large metal dino to close-out kitchen cabinets, a giant fiberglass statue of Michael Jordan, cherry pickers, trailers, military practice bombs – sort of an a(ctual)-bay for random acts of imagination, in two locations. There are Cowboy Days and flea markets, too: it's a genuine amusement park, without the entrance fee. The branding is a little quirky: does the name – Mel Schettl Sales, or Mel Schettl Freight Service – really communicate what the heck this is? Hell, it's Mel!

Which came first, Mel Schettl (from a shtetl?), or kitschy Wisconsin? Is this the origin of those sculptural oddities you see along Interstate 90 around the Wisconsin Dells: the giant moose, the jumbo carp, the gargantuan chunks of fiberglass cheese? And where do people go to learn how to make this stuff? There's a Mel's Flickr stream, too.

I find it interesting that Mel doesn't just buy stuff: he actually commissions and consigns those sculptures, for sale or rent: here's an outlet, perhaps, for out-of-work set designers. He calls his business a "fiberglass petting zoo" but specifies that it's actually a home improvement center. Not a minimalist, Mel, or immaculate gallery owner. If you are in the market for kitchen fixtures, a trip to Mel's would be so much more interesting than Menards. Thanks for the Americana off-road tour to this hill of ghosts and phantasmagoria, DN3!

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