Southwest’s Moose Man

For Don Lindgren, auto bodies have given way to animal bodies

Rita MacCormac said she brought her older convertible to Top Quality Auto Center, 3452 Lyndale Ave. S., because it has rust and needed repair. MacCormac not only found an affordable repair shop, she found a menagerie.

Owner Don Lindgren is the creator of the steel moose that perches in front of the CARAG neighborhood shop, keeping watch on Lyndale Avenue and the outdoor diners at El Meson next door. Lindgren also recently constructed a painted steel eagle, which he’s affixed above a makeshift nest.

"It’s obviously a work of love and detail," said MacCormac, describing the jovial shop owner as a "colorful character." "I like that he has a nature theme and thinks big."

Lindgren, who’s owned the auto shop for 45 years (and been semiretired for 20), is proud of his moose and seems gleeful as he runs about the shop, demonstrating how he welds together large pieces of metal to create his nearly life-size sculptures. He estimated he’s worked on more than 50,000 cars but now prefers to sculpt.

"After 45 years [of working], I want to spend my time playing and creating," Lindgren said. "I think that imagination comes as a gift from God," adding that people should take full advantage of their talents.

Replicating nature

Lindgren said it takes approximately three weeks to make a moose, using metal scraps that he shapes by hand and welds together. "The sparks might hit you, but they’re not going to kill you," he said, demonstrating how to weld.

Lindgren said he’s created the moose and the eagle to be 80 percent to scale of the actual animal. "Life-size is just too big," he said.

Still, when he’s designing the moose, to look authentic, he pays attention to the head placement – whether the moose is looking up, or grazing with its head down.

While the moose sculpture looks massive and heavy – the moose is the largest member of the deer family, after all – it only weighs 100 pounds. Nevertheless, the sculpture is sturdy enough to hold Lindgren, who playfully hops atop the moose and grabs the antlers to pose for a picture.

The eagle, which Lindgren also hand shapes, is a bit more meticulous than the more abstract moose. To create authentic-looking eagle talons, he said he uses the blowtorch in such a way that it spatters liquid steel onto the talons, which dries to a realistic bumpy look.

For a realistic look on the feathers, he said he welds on between 1,500-2,000 individual steel pieces. Unlike his moose, Lindgren said he decided to experiment and finish the eagle with paint.

The only painted item on the moose is its eyes – intended to look natural, glassy. After construction is complete, Lindgren said he rusts the moose – literally, a more rustic look – adding that a rusty moose will stand intact for 200-300 years.

Although he refused to give away his secret to the moose’s quick rust finish (no, it’s not salt), he said he does help the rust along by keeping the metal wet.

But the irony of the moose’s orange patina is not lost on the auto body specialist. "For 45 years I’m trying to get rust off cars. Now I’m trying to get it on the moose," Lindgren said.

An artist’s inspiration

Lindgren said his love for artistic creation began in 2nd grade when he discovered his love for painting; it continued in high school in West Fargo, N.D., when he began making stage props. Although he ended up in auto body repair, Lindgren said, "Every [auto] body man and painter is an artist and sculptor."

Lindgren’s wife Gail works in the body shop office and said her husband began "futzing" with sculpting after his bypass surgery 20 years ago. She said for a while he made lots of birdhouses, but has since moved on to the moose and eagle sculptures.

Don Lindgren said the idea for the moose sculpture first came to him in a dream and his creation of the animal is very personal. "When you dream of something, it’s your picture – it’s you," he said.

Lindgren said he has a cabin in Brainerd, Minn. and thought a moose silhouette would look nice in the yard, but then decided to create a three-dimensional moose. "It was really neat to see out of the corner of my eye a moose," he said.

After creating the animal for his cabin, Lindgren said his wife had asked him to make a sculpture for the auto shop using junk auto scraps; instead, he built another mammoth moose.

For the past 25 years the unofficial shop mascot had been the little yellow Corvette perched atop the shop. While the Lindgrens say people still ask about the airborne car – still up on the roof somewhere – they agree the moose has upstaged it.

Since his first metal moose, Lindgren made six more hoofed leviathans, some for family and others he’s sold to businesses and individuals for between $1,800 and $10,000 each.

His moose can be seen in yards on Lake Minnetonka, Brainerd, and Southwest’s own Whittier neighborhood. Because the lack of snowy weather slowed his auto business a bit, Lindgren delights in the extra cash his nature sculptures bring in. But for him, it’s not about the money, but the reaction from people.

For the love of moose

Don Lindgren said he loves the enthusiasm and the attention the moose brings. He said he’ll often have the moose in a wagon behind his car and people will take pictures on the highway. "People are always doing this," he said, happily giving the thumbs-up sign.

Gretchen Nettelton, who is house-sitting at her parents’ home in the Whittier neighborhood, said they have one of Lindgren’s moose perched in their yard. She said the moose prompts neighborhood curiosity and lots of questions from friends, especially when it was first installed.

"My stepdad bought it for [her mom, Southwest Journal columnist Pam Nettleton] for her 10th anniversary gift," she said, adding that her mom had noticed it on the Lyndale corner.

"She loves it – she thinks it’s great," Nettleton said.

While Gail Lindgren calls her husband’s moose "wonderful," she admits that at first, her husband’s love of moose creation tried her patience. "We’re trying to have a body shop here – and we have moose all over the place," she said chuckling.

When Lindgren first put the moose on the Lyndale corner in the summer of 2003 he said he received between 300 and 400 inquiring calls. "I can’t believe so many people would be interested in a moose," Gail Lindgren said.

As for Don Lindgren, he said it’s the fun of someone buying his art and the reaction it gets. He said whether a dog barks at the moose or kids play on it – the moose inspires joy. "It’s really fun to watch people smile," he said.