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Lake Forest Grad Finds Unexpected Artistic Expression in Iron Works

Steven Gallagher's Model-T Rex greets patrons at newly opened Re-invent art gallery.

As he celebrates Father's Day today, Steven Gallagher never would have pictured what has transpired over the last eight months.

An ironworker by trade, the graduate has found himself spending more time inside an art gallery lately.

“I never once thought I would do anything like this,” said Gallagher, who grew up in . “It makes you appreciate what other people do. You look at it and think, that looks easy, but then you try to do it and it’s not.”

Even more surprisingly is several of the items at the are his.

The most noticeable sits outside the front entrance, standing more than 5 feet tall. It’s a Model T-Rex. Literally. The main parts of the dinosaur’s torso are made from an old Model T axle and rear end that had been sitting for decades after his grandfather, James Gallagher, who owns a Model T, bought them at an auction.

“I started with one dinosaur, about 18 inches tall, and had a lot of fun building that thing,” Steven said. “I brought it to the art show in Waukegan (The Artwalk), and everyone was like, ‘this is great.’ ”

Steven went straight into an ironworker apprenticeship out of high school, following the footsteps of not only his grandfather, but also his father, Mark, working for the family business, North Chicago Iron Works.

Listed among the company's list of recent projects is a renovation and addition at . Steven’s resume includes building stairs, working with structural steel, railings and balconies.

“We do a lot of ornamental iron, which is a little more artistic but you’re still following someone’s plan,” Steven said. “You might think it looks better like this, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not your plan.”

The idea of following his own plan is what provided the mental impetus for venturing into artistic expression with iron works.

“It’s your vision,” Stevens said. “I really like that part of it. There is a lot more freedom and flexibility.”

The rest, as he has discovered, is trying to carve out the time to do it. He and his wife, Cristi, live in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., with their four kids. The oldest is 8-year-old Cassidy, followed by Taylor, 5, Robbie, 3, and Olivia, 2.

“I got a big list of things to get going on,” Steven said. “Whenever I have 20 minutes to get in the garage or a day off, I do some work on it. Cassidy works with me at times. She designed a flamingo with me. The rest of them just like to play with them when they are done. It’s a whole new toy store.”

Some of the other offerings at Re-invent speak to the childlike appeal of his artwork, including alligators, scorpions, turtles and fish. But then you see the welding done to create a door table or an interesting diagonal shelf unit.

One of Gallagher’s high school classmates from the in Lake Forest, Meryl McMahon, began telling Mikrut and her co-owner, Cecilia Lanyon, about Steven’s work, and the ensuing communication brought the two together.

“Steve is the essence of the type of artist we want in our gallery,” said co-owner Kristin Mikrut. “We want to get local artists involved and have them share their work and talent. The dinosaur is our mascot. It’s definitely a conversation piece.”

Because he is still new to all of this, Steven’s methods are also evolving as he uses different tools of his trade.

“I started out taking whole parts and trying to make something out of it,” he said. “Now I’m using more heat to bend stuff around to be more artistic, or cut them differently. I would like to get into more of the blacksmithing of it.”

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