by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
The love of art, metal and fire has unified the members of the Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild (COMAG) for several decades; what started as a social club for those involved in the metal arts is refocusing on educational opportunities and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in their members.
“COMAG President Kellen Bateham and I realized how valuable the concentration of talent and skill is in our members,” explained COMAG Vice President Waylon Rhoads. “We see how valuable these skills could be to the community. We would like to serve as an outlet for metal arts knowledge and education.”
The guild is 55 members strong and open to professionals, students and hobbyists. Many members are already involved in the community and regularly participate in activities like the fire pit competition at the Fall and Winter Festivals in Bend, and most recently live demonstrations at TEDx BEND.
“We want to allow for a bigger membership and offer a scholarship program too,” Rhodes said. “The scholarship will be a way for the group to be able to pay for certain workshops or classes for members. [The idea is] for them to learn a new skill or technique and bring it back to the group…Our members are a big library of knowledge, and it’s a good way for new people to meet those who have been doing it for over 40 years.”
Monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of the month are rotated among the members’ studios and workshops, and while a portion of the gatherings still involve sharing stories and networking, live demos and education are taking on increasing importance. “We are in a transitional time, and are trying to be more of a non-profit community group centered around metal arts education, and [supporting] members of the group in becoming entrepreneurs to serve the community with their skills.”
Many COMAG members are already entrenched in the local arts scene and regularly engage the public in demonstrations and live demos. “Our members are pretty active in the community,” Rhodes said. “It gets people excited about what we are doing, especially with blacksmithing – it has been a dying art, but we are seeing a resurrection.”
The guild is working to obtain non-profit status with the long-term goal of being able to raise funds to bring in national and international educators and artists to Central Oregon, and eventually establish a permanent education facility. “We want to make COMAG a premier metal arts guild in the nation,” he said.
Rhodes and the other board members have looked to successful groups like the Creative Metal Arts Guild in Portland (CMAG) and the Metal Arts Guild of San Francisco (MAG) for inspiration. “The one thing we are really trying to reach towards is establishing a place like the Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee,” he explained.
“They have in-house blacksmiths and jewelers year round, give live tours of the facilities and people can even sign up to become an apprentice. That’s what we want to do. Bend is such an artist-driven and entrepreneurial kind of town; getting a facility would be the best way to do [something similar].”
COMAG will have their first annual show on August 2-3 from 10am to 5pm at the Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend. Over 20 members will exhibit their work, and the group will focus on strategies of making a living in the metal arts. The entrepreneurial spirit is an important part of what the guild leadership hopes to foster in their members.
The Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild has already been an important part of the creative industry in the high desert for years, and their new focus is poised to create even more opportunities for metal arts professionals and hobbyists to elevate their craft.