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Sculptor inspires others to turn bales of hay into works of art

Straw Sculptor
Posted at 2:17 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 14:17:59-04

MOUNT MORRIS, IL — Some artists like to create in clay, others in wood or marble. But one artist was inspired to sculpt using a more unusual medium.

Building snowmen in his twenties is what first sparked an interest in sculpting for artist Fran Volz.

​“Here's a little Marilyn Monroe, an angel,” he said while looking through photos of his snow sculptures.

Today, his art studio, a former hardware store, is a wondrous workshop.

​“I specialize in larger-than-life statues, especially the human body; the human form,” said Volz.

He's worked in all kinds of mediums.

​“Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at with chicken wire, with fiberglass, with Styrofoam,” he said.

He’s sculpted memorials, Greek gods, and even boxing robots.

But it was the more earthy medium of straw that turned out to be one of his most unique.

​“It's a natural growing type of plant and, you know, I never really worked in that before. And so, it was kind of a challenge,” said Volz.

His first straw piece took five months to create. A massive 21-foot, 600-pound replica of the statue of liberty. It was built in sections and assembled using a crane.

​“We put a door on the back of it and you could look up inside and look to the top of the Statue of Liberty.”

Straw sculpting is an art form practiced around the world in places like Japan and China. Volz first came across it on a visit to Germany.

To create the pieces, straw can be woven around chicken wire with wood framing as support.

In 2016, Volz decided a straw sculpting challenge could spark interest in the art form here in the U.S.

​“I tapped into my snow sculpting friends from Rockford and wherever else in Wisconsin and told them about it. And I said, ‘Would you like to convert your talents into straw, too?’” said Volz.

This year marked the sixth annual U.S. National Straw Sculpting Competition.

Here in Mount Morris, Illinois, artists put their work to the test.

​“It's exciting to see the straw sculptures. It's exciting. We’ll draw 5,000 to 8,000 people over the course of 16 or 17 days,” said Jeff Bold, chair of Encore Mount Morris, host of the yearly competition.

Entries must be at least 6-and-a-half feet tall or wide and made of at least 90% straw on the surface.

​“The first year we did this mammoth bison. It was awesome. So, it got me hooked,” said competitor Doreen White.

Volz has made numerous straw sculptures since his first, including a ballerina and a giant arachnid of nightmarish proportions.

And as for the future, he’s got one idea he’s still kicking around.

​“I was thinking about a scuba diver upside down, going down to like a treasure chest,” said Volz. “I might do that in snow, too. Who knows?”