Steel Sculptures Fill Veteran Man's Acres

by Jeff Murray (Star Gazette 9/10/06)

Some people grow tomatoes in their garden, Or flowers. Cornelius Lyon’s garden features steel.

It doesn’t grow there. Instead, Lyon takes scrap steel and conjures up thougth-provking abstract sculptures. Tending to his expanding sculpture garden is more than just a hobby or even a second career for the retired Watkins Glen school teacher. It is more of a quest, a mission

Lyon started his sculpture garden in 1984. Twenty-two years latter, nearly 400 creations dot 40 wooded acres surrounding his home on Acker Road in Veteran.

And he’s still going strong, “I work on this seven days a week when the weather is nice. It’s just a lot of fun,” Lyon said. “I love human interest stories that people have never heard about before.’

Lyon’s sculptures are tributes to famous people and maybe some who weren’t

 so famous but did note worthy things;

One sculpture honors the man who isolated the penicillin vaccine. Another pays tribute to the first female journalist killed in overseas war zone. There are many homage’s to war heroes and heroines and a lot of themes and symbols about the excitement-and perils-of the nuclear age.

A recent addition to Lyons’s garden is a memorial to the World Trade Center.

Most of his retirement checks go into buying the scrap metal and high-quality auto body paints he uses to create his sculptures, and Lyon get no monetary compensation in return.

He offers free tours of the sculpture garden to anyone who wants to experience the journey.

Lyon is able to finance his second career thanks to royalties from a natural well that came through on another part of his property. That gives him the freedom to do what he’s always wanted to do-give something back. “I wanted to contribute something to the human spirit. I am lucky. I can make a contribution. Lyon draws much of his inspiration from his four-year tenure in the U.S. Air Force. He calls his experience as a 19year-old serving in Korea” the best year of my life.”

He also realized from the experience that he had a lot to learn about life and the world around him, and was determined to educate himself as much as he could. Lyon graduated from Corning Community College in 1964 and Mansfield University in 1968. He started teaching at Watkins Glen Middle School in 1970 and earned his master’s degree from Elmira College in 1971.

Lyon’s interest in abstract sculpture was ignited when he saw abstract art for the first time during a visit to Paris. Since then, he says he’s seen all the major sculpture gardens on five continents.

To learn his craft, he took advanced welding courses from BOCES and recently completed an auto body class at Corning Community College. Lyon, who retired from teaching in 2000, hopes to have more than 500 pieces on display before he’s done, which he says would make his sculpture garden among the largest in the world.

Lyon has three grown children, all of whom served in the U.S. Navy. His son Neil, still on active duty, is the heir apparent to his sculpture garden to his Lyon hopes he can keep the sculpture garden he’s developed for the last two decades going, ‘but say he’s not ready to put away his welder’s torch yet. “It should remain intact for a long time; its maintenance-free,” Lyon said.

“I have something to do for the rest of my life. This is the greatest retirement job. You are finally CEO of your own destiny.”


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