Karol Startzel can't help herself. Humor and creativity flow effortlessly from her.
Her art studio, for example, has a sign on it with the numbers 1-4-3. It's the number of trips she and husband Todd made to the hardware store to build it, she quips.
Beneath the sign, several of her whimsical welded critters — she favors birds — welcome visitors to her shop, which is packed with remnants of old machines, tools and assorted scrap metal in boxes with labels like "Weird" and "Weirder."
But weird is wonderful in Startzel's world, which includes her studio, and a matching Victorian two-story she shares with Todd, Penny the rescue dog and Eve the indoor kitty.
The couple built the house in 2004 in central Spokane Valley, on a rocky outcropping that for many years served as the region's unofficial salvage yard. Karol was only too happy to transform some of what she found during home construction into sculptures, all of which she gives names to according to what they're made of.
She used hand shovels for the Trowel Trout, for example. The stork-like creation with the hydraulic hammer piece for a head? Alice Cooper, of course, because it's "heavy metal," says Startzel, with perfect comedic timing.
The '48 truck at the entrance of their modest acreage, however, is a remnant from Startzel's childhood on a fourth-generation Pullman wheat farm. That's where she first became familiar with the mechanics of welding by watching others, all the while absorbing a mindset of repurposing and problem-solving that's inherent to farming.
Startzel left the farm to pursue horticulture at Spokane Community College, funded in part by a track scholarship in 1980. She returned to work in their horticulture program — the "queenery of the greenery," she says with a laugh.
And about 10 years ago, she took her first of many classes in welding.
"What I love about welding," she says, "is if you need something you can just make it."
So for her daughter's wedding, she made four chandeliers and set them amid the gazebos, hidden alcoves, chicken coop, mason bee condos, and hundreds of plants and trees that Startzel has carefully curated and tended on her Spokane Valley property.
In 2018 they built the 12-foot-by-20-foot shop, which is the second of two art spaces for Startzel, who is also a member of the River Ridge Association of Fine Arts and sells her work through Rosarium Garden Center.
On the lowest level of their home, Startzel has a warren-like space filled with evidence of her lifelong interest in art. The fabric and beading are a testimony to the influence of her mother, who also did stained glass. Nearly every surface is covered with framed artwork, family photos and other ephemera, including a disco ball and a volleyball painted to resemble the face/handprint of Wilson from the movie CastAway.
"I am fortunate as my art does not put food on my table, so I get to create mostly for the joy of it," says Startzel. "It makes me feel bad when people say they are not creative," she adds. "I think we are all creative in our own way and fear sadly keeps us from trying."