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Making Magic in Metal 

Sculptor Wayne Chabre has made a career out of being inspired by the Northwest

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It's a few weeks before his first-ever exhibition at CdA's Art Spirit Gallery (which opened last week and also features Kay O'Rourke) and Wayne Chabre has a lengthy to-do list. He needs to arrange for transport of mostly metal-based sculptures of bronze, steel, and hammered copper, as well as cast glass and resin. Assisted by the folks at Walla Walla Foundry, Chabre needs to finish a few new pieces, as well as numerous commissions he's engaged in at any given time.

"Geometry Lessons," which Chabre describes as a "waggish dog juggling geometric forms," is one of several new, smallish pieces created for the Art Spirit exhibition. "Fish Lips," consisting of two wall-mounted sconce lights, is typical of Chabre's playful aesthetic, often involving an amalgam of industrial and organic components — heroic animals, anthropomorphized fish, undulating plant forms.

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The Art Spirit exhibition represents a mini-break from a 30-year career of public and private works dotting the Northwest landscape. Locally, there are the dozen figurative busts of local leaders lining the exterior of the Cowles publishing building in Spokane, which Chabre initially envisioned as gargoyle caricatures of Northwest journalists. His fanciful animals adorn the entry gates to Portland's Oregon Zoo, while across town, "Second Growth" at a TriMet Light Rail station rises like a bronze tree sprouting symbols of the city's rich culture: jazz music, glassmaking and the food and beverage industry.

Several public works feature the artistry of Chabre's wife, calligrapher Jeanne McMenemy, such at the 17-foot-tall "Wailing Bell" at Washington State University's Vancouver campus. Made of bronze, locust, yew wood and steel, the bell is a memorial to the world's extinct species.

Each piece, he says, inspires the next set of ideas.

"There are so many things I've been carrying around in my mind for years," says Chabre, who learned to weld at a young age on an Eastern Washington wheat and cattle ranch. Inspired by the boneyard of machinery parts on the farm of his youth, Chabre created the steampunkish Great Combine to memorialize Stockton, Calif.'s early history. He envisions a similar structure in Spokane's Riverfront Park celebrating the area's waterfall-fueled industries.

In Coeur d'Alene, Chabre pictures a gate or bas-relief addressing the power of the great floods of 15,000 years ago. Chabre's familiarity with the Inland Northwest dates to his college days at Gonzaga University, where he fell under the tutelage of fellow Art Spirit artist Harold Balazs. From Balazs, Chabre learned casting techniques and metalworking, especially hammered copper, but also about how an artist might move through the world.

"Here's somebody who looks like he's making a pretty good living [at art] and having fun doing it," says Chabre of Balazs' influence. What attracted him most to a career in art, says Chabre, was Balazs' creativity, and the notion of "making something that wasn't there before." ♦

Wayne Chabre and Kay O'Rourke • Jan. 10-Feb. 8 • The Art Spirit Gallery • 415 Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene • theartspiritgallery.com• 208-765-6006

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