While Mitchell Siegel has no formal training in art and sculpture design, he comes from a long line of handy, talented people. The East Meadow High School graduate has been creating masterpieces for years — large sculptures, of all repurposed materials, depicting his love for nature, plants, insects and animals.
Siegel, 53, of nearby Levittown, attended Empire State College, and graduated with an associate’s degree. After, he went through an accredited apprenticeship through his union, IBEW Local Union No. 3. A third-generation electrician, he’s been working in the profession for 30 years.
Siegel’s parents are both creative in their own respect, he said.
“They are both very artistic in all sorts of different ways,” Siegel said. “I picked up welding many years ago out of a necessity for something. I’m an avid fisherman — and what happened was I was ready to spend a lot of money on buying a really cool rack for the front of my truck to hold my rods and everything.
“My cousin looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you buy a welder and start making them yourself?’” he explained. “It really was a few cousins, that inspired me to start welding. And that really started off a whole love for working with metal.”
Aside from welding, Siegel has an extensive woodshop in his basement, where he does cabinetry and makes furniture.
“I was raised to be a lover of tools and to play with tools and build things and make things my whole life,” he said. “The sculpture stuff really came about within the last few years.”
Combining his skill sets, Siegel’s sculptures are often supersized, and nature-based. One of his most recent pieces, a dandelion, features petals falling off, to give it the effect of it blowing in the wind.
He doesn’t use a computer to generate the shape of his work. Rather, he draws and cuts everything by hand.
“Something I really love and enjoy doing is — I have a plasma cutter — I cut things out by hand,” Siegel explained. “A plasma cutter is basically like a torch that will cut through steel or any metal that conducts electricity. They joking call it ‘the sun in a gun,’ because it is pretty much one of the hottest things on the Earth.”
Plasma cutters can reach temperatures of over 20,000 degrees while in use.
“I would say a good majority — probably more than 90 percent of my work — is all reclaimed material,” he said. “I pretty much salvage and scrap stuff from work sites that’s going in the garbage, and I try to utilize and reutilize things.”
Siegel said for years, his wasn’t displayed in a public setting. He created sculptures for his home, and for family and friends. Recently, a large butterfly sculpture of his was installed at Temple B’Nai Torah in Wantagh, which his family attends. The synagogue has a community garden.
“When I realized how much work people were doing in the garden in the back of the temple, I felt that it was a very suiting place for it,” he said. “It’s so nice because when we go there, people that are working in the garden tell me all the time that it doesn’t really matter where you are in the garden. You look up, and you see the butterfly from different angles and it leaves a shadow, sometimes next to where you’re looking down. It’s just a very positive and nice thing to know. Who doesn’t like butterflies?”
His most recent art installation was unveiled at the end of August at the Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson.
There, his mom Lucille, a woodcarver, creates walking sticks for the garden. She said she’s been advocating to get her son’s work installed, speaking with its head horticulturist, Bonnie Klein.
“Finally, at this year’s garden show, I brought the photos of my son’s work with me,” she said. “I showed this to Bonnie, and Bonnie was so overwhelmed by them.”
Because the garden is owned and operated by the Town of North Hempstead, the pieces had to be approved before Siegel’s work could go in. Now, the garden is home to three of his sculptures — a heron, a dragonfly and a dandelion.
“I really truly go off inspiration,” Siegel said of his work. “A lot of my work is done for friends and family, people that inspire me to do things. I always loved the outdoors, I always loved dragonflies and I always loved making giant flowers.”
Siegel, who survived a heart attack when he was 46, is having another piece — a large steel heart that is laced together with steel ribbon — installed at St. Francis Hospital on the North Shore, this week.
This year has been all about art for Siegel, and he’s looking forward to a future of more creations.
“I’ve been working on a lot of projects for a long time, and I jokingly say I have a stay period — I like to enjoy my work for a little while before I put it out,” he said. “This year, I decided it was going to be the year that I was going to do what I said I was going to do, with all the things that I could make.”
To see Siegel’s work, visit the Clark Botanic Garden at 193 I U Willets Road, Albertson.