“Praying for Prey” Sculpture by John Brommel

Some folks think it’s cute, while others find it a bit terrifying. No matter where you fall on this spectrum of adoration (or fear), you have to admit that this sculpture in Altoona’s Enabling Garden is pretty cool!

But why is it here? Who created it? And is it going to eat me?

For starters…no. It’s not going to eat you. Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s learn more about this Altoona masterpiece!

“Praying for Prey” is a 12-foot praying mantis sculpture located in Altoona’s Enabling Garden, created by Des Moines-based artist John Brommel in collaboration with the Polk County Master Gardeners. Brommel constructed the piece using steel, copper, stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum.

A Beastly Bug with a Calm Demeanor

When you first see this 12-foot praying mantis sculpture in person, “calm” might not be the first word that comes to mind…especially if you have entomophobia.

Take a closer look, though. It’s harmless. The subject of “Praying for Prey” is in a perpetual state of peaceful meditation.

Well, that’s one of the many ways way you could interpret its body language.

You might also see it waving “hello”, beckoning gardeners in our community with its raised raptorial legs. Looking at it from another (and very inaccurate) perspective, one might even argue that this bug is permanently stuck in the “Y” part of the “YMCA” dance.

And that’s the beauty of it. Each time you examine this sculpture, your eyes will reveal something delightfully different…even if you have entomophobia!

Brought to Life by John Brommel & the Polk County Master Gardeners

In 2010, the Polk County Master Gardeners reached out to Des Moines-based artist John Brommel to see if he’d be interested in crafting a praying mantis sculpture for Altoona’s Enabling Garden, an interactive outdoor space for people of all ages and abilities.

He was more than happy to oblige!

Brommel met up with the Master Gardeners and started brainstorming what the piece could look like. It didn’t take them long to devise the perfect concept together.

Now, it was time to get to work!

John Brommel’s name will likely ring a bell if you’re from the Altoona area. His work can be found at Haines Park, Ironwood Park, and the Altoona Public Library, just to name a few spots!

What’s an Art Project Without a Little Entomology?

Great art requires thorough research, which is why Brommel essentially became a bona fide entomologist before he started welding together his new project.

He spent a whole summer observing a congregation of 150 praying mantises, which was especially exciting for him given his childhood fascination with the insect.

“I was intrigued by them as a child because I could never find a live one,” Brommel said in an interview with the Des Moines Register, “I just saw pictures in books.”

So, what did he discover during his summer stint as an entomologist?

“The praying mantis is the T-Rex of the insect world,” Brommel learned. “Even eating makes them hungry.”

Luckily for insects in Altoona, though, metal sculptures don’t have much of an appetite.

And Brommel’s beastly bug isn’t interested in hunting, anyway. Its existence is entirely centered around beauty. For over a decade now, “Praying for Prey” has been reminding Enabling Garden-goers to simply stop and smell the roses.

Discover More Art in Altoona

Thank you for reading this edition of Masterpieces of Altoona! We’ll be regularly updating this blog with content about Altoona’s incredible public art displays, like this “Where the Wild Things Are”-themed mural or the Veterans Memorial A-7D Jet Display at Sam Wise Youth Complex.

Be on the lookout for more Masterpieces of Altoona QR codes—you’ll find them at exhibits throughout the city!

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