LITCHFIELD — Parker LeFever entered several art competitions throughout his high school career.
He won small awards at different art shows around the state. But it’s his first, first-place award in the Congressional Art Competition for the 3rd District of Nebraska he’s most proud of.
“I was just so excited to see him win a big award. ‘See, you are awesome. Like, your art is fabulous,’” said Allison Varah, LeFever’s art teacher. “It is nice to see him recognized for all of his efforts because he has really always put in 100 percent effort.”
According to Varah, U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith personally picked LeFever’s winning piece — “Unique Longhorn” on gage sheet metal. Smith called LeFever to announce the award and congratulate him.
LeFever, a Litchfield High School graduate, was surprised.
‘“Me? No, it couldn’t be,’” LeFever remembers thinking. “But it put a smile on my face.”
In September, he will attend a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where his art will be hung for a year. As a winner of the art competition, LeFever gets two free tickets to the ceremony.
The ceremony was postponed from July because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve never been to D.C. I’ve never really been on any trips because we never go anywhere as a family. So I think that will be kind of cool,” he said.
LeFever’s 18-by-12 inch Longhorn cow design on copper is stunning, Varah said, much because it was mastered creating a patina with the chemical, liver of sulfur.
“He got really good at putting different amounts, diluting the liver of sulfur with more or less water so that it gets that really, really black. Or there’s a middle ground where you get a lot of different colors,” she said.
Before starting the project, LeFever drew a longhorn, and planned how he would distress, or patina, the metal.
“He’s very type A. He draws it out,” Varah said. “He pretty much knows what it’s going to look like, unless for some reason something doesn’t look quite like he wants it… he’ll change it a little bit.”
Once a plan was in place, LeFever pressed his design into the metal with the end of a pencil. The technique leaves a mark, “like you’re writing on a piece of paper but it’s actually engraved in it,” he said.
LeFever also pressed clouds into the sky, creating crevices that look like lightning. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of neat.’ I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident,” he said.
Though he doesn’t live on a ranch, LeFever likes Longhorns, and drew inspiration from a rural Litchfield farm where he worked with the cattle. This summer he is working on his cousins’ Jake and Bruce Guthard’s rural Litchfield farm.
The Longhorn piece isn’t the only metal work he’s created. He also designed a 4-foot by 18-inch tall 3D art semi truck out of scrap metal. The 94-pound piece won third place at the Fort Kearny Conference’s first art competition this year.
With permission, LeFever used metal from a local farmer’s iron pile for the project.
“I got a sheet of metal from him and put a rear suspension on it, so I got springs. I cut them to be about three inches. Just random stuff, oil filters for the gas tanks, pipe smoke stacks. It’s kind of neat,” LeFever said.
The pieces were welded together in the school shop room where he took classes, and decided he wanted to make welding a career. In the fall he will enroll in welding at Central Community College in Grand Island.
“I always watched people do it. I thought it was kind of cool, so I took welding class. And that’s what I wanted to do my career for because I thought it was fun,” he said.
LeFever doesn’t plan to give up art, though. He is currently making exact replicas of his winning “Unique Longhorn” for people who want to buy the piece.
The original will hang at his house.
“So he was kind of thinking it’s something he could just do at home while he’s not working,” Varah said of LeFever’s artwork. “It will be a nice little side business for him.
“So that’s exciting that the kids can actually make some real money with art.”
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