Three Metal Artisits

Natural Forms Take Solid Shapes

by Deb Guerrette

Weld vt. hammer or press (pieces of heated iron or steel) into one piece

Forge vt. shape (esp. metal) by heating in a fire and hammering

– Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition

Turning hot metal into art comes naturally for three Grande Prairie artists, whose work and play led them into it.

Greg Gourlay

West Wind, Greg Gourlay

With forging hammer in hand, Greg Gourlay strikes at an imaginary piece of hot metal, demonstrating how he would round or bend it using a homemade tool. A variety of metal rods, some with short curls, and others with elongated bends and twists, hang on a rack he’s fashioned beside a heavy metal work stand.

“You start with a piece of rod. Take what you need; heat it, add stuff on to it, bang it out, roll it, chase it around – this will be for another (coat rack) piece like in the house,” he says, now holding a long piece of twisted metal. Natural forms abound in the shapes Gourlay creates, in metal sculptures, in stacks of figure drawings he has done, and in wood and ceramic works. “I draw from life, pretty much,” said Gourlay, who retired this year, after 13 years of teaching high school art in Beaverlodge.

A recent metal rod sculpture is “based on a cycle of natural forms,” he says, showing the piece still in his basement. “It’s all forged, loosely based on lily pads, water life, fish and animals, insects, the natural world.”

Another piece, a small sculpture model in tin called ‘West Wind,’ “implies the winds blowing across the Nose Mountain, as seen from the highway to Beaverlodge.” Applying techniques he learned at an ornamental iron work course he took in England some years ago adds to the calibre and uniqueness of his metal work.

Gourlay grew-up in Cambridge, Ontario, where his father worked in a machine shop. He started down the same path as a youth working with his father, and then “came out west to be a teacher,” when he was 22.

Though he has yet to show his work formally, Gourlay’s long relationship with art and craftsmanship is intrinsic to his home and shop. The shop itself, in the back of his yard in Grande Prairie, is a carefully restored 1920’s vintage cabin from the Huallen area.

Cindy Nychka

Angel of a Fish, Cindy Nychka

An Open Air Garden of sculptures, birdhouses, figures and a seascape sits atop a roof at the QEII Hospital. In good view for pediatric and other patients, the ‘garden’ includes metal art pieces created by Cindy Nychka, a welding instructor at Grande Prairie Regional College. Completed in fall 2011, the three pieces made for the Open Air Garden are Nychka’s first commissioned project. Nychka’s created smaller metal art pieces at her leisure, but the commitment was a good motivator to complete a series of pieces, and she admits “it was pretty exciting getting that project done.”

Made of steel, stainless steel, brass and copper, the pieces include a pyramid, a tall circle-figured girl and a seascape of fish swimming in textured and twisty strands of metal weeds. To create a blister-pocked effect in the long weeds, the copper was exposed to salt and vinegar, and sealed in a container with ammonia. “It will turn green – it’s like it weathers it,” Nychka said.

Nychka grew up in the Beaverlodge area. She didn’t plan on a career as a welder, or a teacher at first either, but her creativity has been there all along. Introduced to welding by a family friend, Nychka worked in the oilfield to complete her journeyman ticket. She was taking a brief break from welding to do leatherwork, a craft she’s enjoyed for over 20 years, when a former instructor from Fairview sought her assistance. “I was just going to fill in for a short time,” said Nychka, in her office at GPRC, where she’s been an instructor for 10 years. Nychka has no shortage of ideas or desire to create. Largely self-taught in art, she enjoys courses in different mediums, such as stained glass, whenever she has time. “I have lots of stuff stored up, just like a volcano,” she says.

The opportunity to instruct a new Introduction to Metal Art course for GPRC this year is very exciting for her. “It means more time to work with metal,” she says, smiling. “I’ll have to prep for class.”

Lana Agar

Chair, Lana Agar

When Lana Agar has time to weld for the fun of it, art projects start to take shape from the bits and pieces of metal stashed in a special corner of her workplace shop. Agar is a journeyman welder, with a steady job in the oilfield and a plan underway to be dual-ticketed as pipefitter by the time she’s 30-years old, making time for art projects hard to find.

“If I have a spare day, if it’s ever slow, it’s, oh yay, it’s art day today!” Agar said, hanging back late at the shop one evening after a long day in the field. That’s when metal-shaped things not meant for the oilfield start to emerge from the back of Waydex Services shop in Grande Prairie industrial park; pieces like a crazy chair with arm and foot extensions, a coat rack with three sapling like shoots reaching tall, bent together at trunk and at top, or round-top gates with sail and scroll bent swirl shapes.

Agar works mostly with steel, but sometimes copper too, and while the welding brings a piece together, it’s “not just welding, but bending, twisting, a lot of grinding,” she says.
Sometimes teased by her workmates about what a piece is going to be before she gets time to finish it, Agar says she’s always been motivated to create, with most of her ideas derived from things she sees around her.

A large drying rack, complete with snow-capped mountains, tree, snowflake and cabin shapes, is one of her larger, fun and functional creations, now in good use by fellow sledders. Another piece, a long-legged ostrich-like bird with coiled bands of plumage atop its head, falls into a category Agar calls, “not meant to do anything, but turned out pretty cool.”

“I’ve always liked art, and grew up being very crafty,” says Agar, who moved from Keremeos, B.C. to the Peace region with a sister after high school.


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