Jasper man turns lawn into checkered art

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
"I love NASCAR and Formula One. That's my checkered flag right there," Porfirio Deras-Lopez of Jasper said about his lawn. With 20-inch squares of grass that are mowed to have more height, he described it as "like that classic military hair cut: the flattop." 

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Some artists use paint and a canvas to create their art. Others use pencils and a sketchbook. Porfirio Deras-Lopez of Jasper, 51, uses his lawn and a lawn mower.

Deras-Lopez and his girlfriend, Louis Allen, 50, purchased their home at 1674 E. Third Ave. less than a year ago, and Deras-Lopez wasted no time pouring his creativity into the lawn. For the first mowing season at his home, Deras-Lopez created a checkerboard pattern in the front yard. Next year, he figures he might do entwined circles in the Olympic fashion.

“I like to garden,” Deras-Lopez said. “I like to be outdoors.”

If Deras-Lopez isn’t at work at one of his two jobs — MasterBrand during the week and delivering pizzas for Domino’s on the weekend — he’s out in the yard, Allen said. He gets up in the morning, drinks his coffee and heads outside, not coming back in until he needs a drink of water.

He has big plans for his lawn.

Eventually, he’d like to install a rotating platform for vehicles so that he and Allen don’t have to back out onto the busy street. He found the system in a YouTube video and decided it was a must.

Deras-Lopez often takes photos of his outdoor creations to send to his mother, who lives in Mexico. She gets a kick out of it, he said.

When Deras-Lopez and Allen moved into their home, Deras-Lopez said, the yard was unkept. Now, Deras-Lopez has flower beds set up, a little chicken coop in the backyard, and the signature checkerboard lawn out front. Several neighbors have stopped and said they’re glad someone who cares about the lawn moved in, and Deras-Lopez likes to see people’s heads turn as they drive past his yard.

“I feel an obligation (to keep the yard nice),” he said. “We live on the corner right there on the main street. You just feel an obligation to keep it clean; keep it neat.”

Deras-Lopez often takes photos of his outdoor creations to send to his mother, who lives in Mexico. She gets a kick out of it, he said.

Deras-Lopez had some experience gardening before he immigrated to the U.S. in 1999.

Back in Mexico, he worked at several resorts keeping the grounds neat. Then, in 1998, his sister, who lives in Arizona, called him up and mentioned that a field work program in the U.S. had some openings, if he was interested. He got a temporary work visa and made his first trip to the U.S.

“It was never on my mind to get on this side (of the border),” he said.

Life, however, had different plans. After the 1998 growing season, Deras-Lopez returned to Mexico and enrolled in an English immersion school to master the language for the next season. He knew some English from working at the resorts, but when he got to the U.S., he soon realized his English skills weren’t enough to effectively communicate. When he returned to the Paducah, Kentucky area in 1999 to work in tobacco fields, he could communicate in both English and Spanish. He is now fluent in both. After a divorce, he moved to the Dubois County area to work and save enough money to move to Arizona near his sister.

“We live on the corner right there on the main street. You just feel an obligation to keep it clean; keep it neat,” Deras-Lopez said about his lawn.

Again, life had different plans.

Years later, he’s set up a life in Dubois County and expects to retire from MasterBrand.

Three years ago, he became a U.S. citizen.

“The (citizenship) test was easy,” he said.

“That’s because he can just look at something and memorize it,” Allen added.

Deras-Lopez hopes his lawn will inspire others to tap into their creativity, too.

“There’s more than just mowing the grass,” Deras-Lopez said. “You gotta do more with it.”




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