Forging Relationships — the Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild & Its Sixth Annual Show & Sale

(Photo | Courtesy of COMAG)

Imagine the intensity of a six-foot long and three-foot high, metal praying mantis! Now imagine making such a sculpture in a collaborative effort among 19 people over a four day period. Take it one step further by imagining that the leader of this group project, the one directing you what to do and how to collectively do it as you handle torches, tongs, hammers and blazing hot pieces of metal, speaks very little English and communicates through miming. This, intrigued reader, is exactly what members of the Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild, or COMAG, did with internationally renowned Russian sculptor and blacksmith Anton Yakushev.

While enjoying a U.S. museum tour with the intent to meet American artists who share his passion for forging steel into sculpture, Anton and his wife Katja made a stop in Bend thanks to an invitation from former COMAG president Kellen Bathan. Initially scheduled to present a slide show and do a demonstration, Anton was struck by the number of metal artists in a town of our size and thus became inspired to build something with these like-minded metalheads. Conceived through a series of “beautifully detailed drawings to scale and a small model mantis,” as COMAG member Goph Albitz reported, the brawny Russian organized small teams, assigning different pieces of the insect to each one. A leg, for example, required 20 pieces — no small task! Then, through his gestural orchestrating and welcome translation of technical issues by Katja, the assemblage began.

Of the 19 participating artists who put in a cumulative 400 hours creating the mantis, six were women, and Katja herself forged steel for the first time ever on this project hosted by Master Blacksmith Joe Elliot at his Dry Canyon Forge downtown studio space. Describing his experience at the workshop, jeweler and artist Goph exclaimed, “I swore I had many conversations with Anton, and then I realized at the end that I never had one conversation with him, at least not a verbal one.” It was almost like everyone knew what we were doing, but we didn’t; it was a play with no script! “The consensus among participating COMAG members is that the workshop was a life-changing event,” Goph further stated. Thus is the power of art and of artistic collaboration. It can transcend language barriers and cultural differences; it is experiential and transformative in so many ways.

To experience and perhaps even purchase the Praying Mantis yourself, visit COMAG’s sixth annual show and sale on October 19 and 20 at At Liberty Arts Collaborative located on Wall Street in downtown Bend. In addition to the mantis, approximately thirty booths will feature a diverse array of metal arts made by jewelry designers, sculpture artists, blacksmiths, gem-stone cutters and metal fabricators from COMAG’s 70-member-strong roster. Half of the sale of the mantis will benefit COMAG, a local nonprofit founded in 1997 upon the love for metal, while the other half will pay Anton for his efforts and possibly even bring him and Katja back to Bend.

Beyond this exquisite showing of dynamic metal arts, COMAG’s members meet the first Tuesday of each month at a different artist’s studio to view their latest and greatest creations; to share stories, news, tips and techniques; and to enjoy like-minded company. The group also schedules a variety of classes and workshops, bringing in visiting artists to lecture and demo. If you are an aspiring metalhead, a mere $30 per year secures membership in a thriving organization “dedicated to the promotion of education, information and collaboration in the metal arts and crafts”. A yearly raffle and a portion of membership fees supports educational scholarships. As COMAG’s website indicates, “We come together for support, education and fun. Our love of art, metal and fire bind us together”.

Don’t miss COMAG’s metal showcase at the At Liberty Arts Collaborative on October 19 and 20. Revel in the beauty and brilliance of gorgeous metal arts of all sorts. And witness the intensity of the Praying Mantis born of cross-cultural collaboration at its finest.

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