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Utah artist's giant praying mantis finds new home

By Keith McCord  |  Posted Sep 26th, 2012 @ 5:50pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Kirk Jellum and his wife Kristen built a giant praying mantis in front of their home in 2010. It's mounted on a truck chassis, and it was an art project that they took to "Burning Man" — the annual art and self-expression gathering in the Nevada Desert every year. Now, the mantis has a new home.

"I never imagined that we would sell the mantis," Kristen Ulmer said. "I mean, who knew there was a market for such things?"

The "Praying Mantis" has a neck that can be raised 35 feet into the air and the antennae shoot 20-foot flames. The creation was mounted on a 1983 GMC dump truck and driven 500 miles to Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno in western Nevada two years ago.

Aerospace engineer-turned large scale metal artist Kirk Jellum designed and built the unusual vehicle. Little did he and his wife know that someone would see it, and would eventually want to buy it. The mantis was on display in Las Vegas a while back when Ulmer said Tony Hsieh started asking her husband odd questions. He finally said he wanted to buy it.

"All Tony said was, ‘How much?" she said.

Hsieh is the CEO of the online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos.com. He's spending $350 million on a redevelopment project in downtown Las Vegas that is a combination of retail and residential. Art will be front and center.

"The visibility is going to be awesome," Jellum said. "It's going to be the entry piece into a shipping container retail space. He's taking shipping containers and tricking them out into a hipster-like retail space."

The Mantis helped propel Jellum's second project last year: a commissioned giant scorpion that he and Kristen also drove to Burning man, complete with computerized flame effects. Sitting side by side, the scorpion and the mantis were big hits in the Nevada desert.

These days, the scorpion sits in Jellum's shop, waiting for it's next appearance. The mantis is getting ready to help revitalize a section of Las Vegas.

As far as his next idea goes, Jellum said he has been studying hummingbird wing patterns — giant ones. He hopes to find an investor for the project.

"So it'll maybe be 50 feet in the air, and who knows how wide the wings will be," he said. "I'm actually going to articulate the wings so they'll move."

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