Lighthearted art made of heavy metal
There’s a mermaid in the Hagen yard — well, half a mermaid — sporting wildly curly red hair, spherical green eyes and plentiful lips that spit water into a pond below.
Emerging from the bow of a wooden boat, the myth of folklore, who Judy Hagen calls “one of my girls,” was fashioned from scrap metal that Hagen and her husband, Lou Hagen, use to create sculptures for their business, 2nd Time Designs near Millsboro.
There’s a small sign in front of their neatly-kept home at 26380 John J. Williams Highway, but what catches the eyes of passersby are the sculptures — some towering — in the front and side yards, including SpongeBob SquarePants, an inchworm in toddlers’ shoes, a skeleton riding a motorcycle, and long-necked man wearing a baseball cap, flowered shirt and shorts.
So captivating are the works that some vacationers can’t resist turning into the Hagens’ driveway to see more and introduce themselves.
“They ask if they can look around, maybe take some pictures of something they might want to buy. You meet some great people,” said a paint-stained Hagen as she gave a casual tour one recent afternoon.
A petite woman with a quick smile and soft voice, Hagen — who mingles with visitors while her husband welds in a shop behind their home — is quick to correct anyone who refers to her as an artist.
She thought back to her first piece, a flower produced from a farm-equipment disc and an anchor from a small boat.
“I just tried it. What are you going to do? You mess it up and you throw it away,” she said, waving a hand and smiling as a red tabby cat sauntered by and the friendly rooster she calls Elvis crowed.
With their daughter’s help, the Hagens even managed to shape a dinosaur.
Every piece is dated, numbered and signed.
“Each is brightly splash-colored and made to last a lifetime of bad weather,” states the whimsically written 2nd Time Designs website.
The couple made Knottie, a 6-foot replica of the red knot — a small shorebird that visits this area for several weeks each spring — for the DuPont Nature Center at the Mispillion Harbor Reserve.
“What other artists do you know whose outdoor works are on display and look like new, year after year, in Great Britain’s rain and fog, in Moscow’s ice and snow? You may need to duct tape the corners of your mouth if you want to keep from smiling as you approach Judy and Lou Hagens’ Recycled Metal Art Sculptures studio,” the site says.
Orders for commissioned work are taken by e-mail at
The Hagens were tractor-trailer drivers for years.
“We saw a big flower thing up on a pole” while traveling through Georgia in those days, she said. “We thought we could do better. We came back and just started playing with it. We needed to make Christmas gifts for family.”
Prices range from $25 for butterflies and snails to $3,000, but it isn’t the money that drives the couple.
“We do fine. Others might not, but for us, we do fine. I don’t want to be any bigger than I am,” she said.
Metal is purchased from scrapyards and farmers in the area for the thousands of sculptures the couple has made and painted, being sure everything is protected and suitable for outdoors.
There are dragonflies, turtles, clownfish, seahorses, herons, praying mantises, an impressive eagle, birds, crabs, cats and flowers, and some that spin in the breeze, as well as seats and chairs.
“I work at my own pace. I’m out here every day. It takes time to paint and weld. If I found out how much time I put in, I would probably do better working at McDonald’s, but I’m still enjoying it. I still want to do it,” Hagen said.
What’s her favorite piece?
“I don’t know yet,” she said thoughtfully.
“I haven’t made my favorite piece yet.”
She is fond of those girls, though — the half mermaid; a headless Daisy Duke wearing skimpy cutoff shorts and a bikini top and lying on her back on a creeper under the front of a blue car; and a bather in a white bathtub with unkempt black curls, covered with dozens of large, round bubbles.
Each started as a simple foam ball, and Hagen spray painted them white and sealed them with a protective clear coat.
“I still don’t consider myself an artist. I had a gentleman ask, ‘Well, what do you call an artist?’ Anything but me,” she said, leaning an arm on the likeness of a large red M&M’s mascot in the shop where she paints.
But the description certainly fits the woman who, by trial and error, has learned each unique piece needs to be sandblasted, puttied, ground and covered with two coats of primer, followed by a double coat of paint, before being decorated with trim and sealed from the elements.
“I didn’t read anything about how to do it. There was nobody to ask. I just play,” she said, walking past a row of plastic knives she used — each with a color scheme — lined up in the sun, on a piece of landscaping timber.
“As long as we can keep it fun, I’m going to continue to do it. But I’m not going to do it if it’s not fun.”
By Susan Canfora