Sculpture Garden Blooms

by Danielle Farnbagh

You can call him "Cornelius." You can call him "Pepsi." You can call him "Ross." "Pepsi" is his childhood nickname, Ross Lyon is his professional name. But, whatever you call Cornelius F. Lyon Jr. of Acker Road in Horseheads, you can also use the words "The Prolific," as in "The Prolific Cornelius Lyon."

Since he began working as a metal sculptor in 1984, Lyon has created 158 metal sculptures. In the past year, he's been working at the tempo of one sculpture each weekend. During the week, the 51 year old teaches reading at Watkins Glen Middle School.

All the sculptures are in the outdoor sculpture garden that wraps around his house. The sculpture garden and house are included in the 40 acres of woods, wildflowers and meandering paths that Lyon calls home.

His living room window looks out on the yellow, black and red abstract sculpture depicting Achilles, complete with a spear in his ankle. That was Lyon's first sculpture. "I'll never do anything that heavy again," he says of the cast iron sculpture. Like his later works, Achilles is made of "found materials," large pieces of scrap metal that Lyon collects from scrap yards, factory sales, friends and acquaintances.

Lyon is a man who's never done anything halfway. He use to write songs. "I was a songwriter for 10 years. I've got them stacked up that high," he says, holding his hand at his waist. He figures he's written about 500 songs. "But not one of them ever got published ...But my kids think they're going to cash in on them when I die," Lyon says with a sigh. When he decided to stop writing songs, he started another project-building his won house from the ground up.

In 1980 and 1981, he took courses at Schuyler-Chemung-Tioga BOCES on framing, plumbing, electricity, you name it. Then he had the house foundation poured professionals and completed the rest of the work himself. Once the house was done, Lyon got itchy for another project. "I was always interested in art and when I saw this abstract work while I was in college, I became even more interested," Lyon says.

A trip to the Storm King outdoor sculpture garden in Newbury, N.Y., sparked a desire to create his own art. "I said, 'I'm going to have my own sculpture garden,'" he said. So he went back to class.

I did my homework right this time. I took welding courses; I saw all the art shows," Lyon says. Recently, he added an auto refinishing course at Corning Community College to his curriculum. Future Lyon sculptures will have a high gloss, sports car-like finish. Until now, Lyon's sculptures have stayed put in his sculpture garden. But one, Nuclear Cardinal, was in this year's Annual Regional Art Exhibition at the Arnot Art Museum. Lyon is hopeful that other sculptures will soon be leaving the fold. Repeated inquiries to New York City galleries have finally yielded two invitations for Lyon to submit more information on his work. "I'm only one gallery away from taking that step up. I'm so pleased I could spit nickels," Lyon says.

Lyon's work is filled with symbolism: clock symbols, marking 8:15 (the time when Hiroshima was bombed) and 10:59 (when Nagasaki was bombed); trinities; missiles and imaginary post nuclear war objects and animals. One work represents the psychologist Sigmund Freud. "That's Freud. See the crooked nose? Remember? If you have a crooked nose, you're neurotic. All those things Freud taught us," Lyon says, adding a tinge of sarcasm to his voice. He says he doesn't hold much trust in modern psychology.

But the home-building, self-taught artist does trust Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance. "I've read that book over and over again," he says. "I've done this the old-fashioned way. No money. No training. No encouragement." 

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