Hands-on art

There’s no stuffy “hands-off” rule when it comes to art by Trenton Leach.

There’s no stuffy “hands-off” rule when it comes to art by Trenton Leach.

His dimensional creations invite touching through the use of unusual elements like rolling glass marbles.

“I do tactile. Everything I do, I try to make interactive,” said the Red Deer artist, best known for creating Fish Bowl. The large metal-and-glass public art sculpture, made up of more than 12,000 movable parts, stands in the main hallway at G.H. Dawe Community Centre, near the pool.

With two panels of colourful marbles taking on a brilliant stained-glass appearance when light shines through its goldfish design, Fish Bowl is a magnet for little hands.

Children might find Leach’s next public art project similarly appealing.

He plans to create a metal framed sculpture near the Sylvan Lake pier that resembles the outline of the old Varsity dance hall. The local venue was a Sylvan Lake institution from the late 1930s. It was frequented by several generations of big band, blues and jazz greats before being torn down in 1979.

Within his four-by-six metre rectangular outline of the Varsity will stand life-sized wire-framed musical instruments — a stand-up bass, drums, trumpet and saxophone. After the sculpture is installed in May, kids can stand “inside” the Varsity and pretend to play the instruments, said Leach.

“You’ll feel like you’re in a room with no walls or a ceiling” that slopes down in perspective towards the lake, added the sculptor, who hopes the sculpture reminds passersby of an interesting period in the resort town’s past.

Renowned Edmonton saxophonist P.J. Perry honed his musical chops by playing seven nights a week at the Varsity, which was owned by his father, Paul Perry, for some years. The younger Perry would regularly get to jam with visiting blues greats from St. Louis or Kansas City and Canadian masters, including trumpeter Bobby Hales.

Besides paying homage to local history, the interactive sculpture will hopefully turn more people on to public art, said Leach. “Maybe it will help open people’s eyes to something they may not be used to …”

The City of Red Deer, like some other municipalities, spends about one per cent of the budget for new construction projects on art. And Leach believes this is good value since public art not only beautifies the community, but becomes a sort of cultural equalizer by giving those who don’t live near big city galleries a chance to see something interesting, creative — even mind-expanding.

He knows there’s a local appreciation for artistry. Even Central Albertans who don’t consider themselves art connoisseurs have been helping support Leach by asking him to create custom-made stairway railings, stained-glass windows, decorative gates, lighting fixtures, accent sculptures and other features for their homes.

“A lot of what I do is functional art,” said the 43-year-old, who runs his Rogue Art and Design Studio with his partner, photographer Holly Elliott.

Leach figures he’s been working full-time in art since winning the Dawe project in 2010. “My (work) is for people who appreciate something different.”

Many of his clients have jobs in the oil services field and own high-end homes. But the trained electrician, who taught himself to work with glass and metalwork in his mid-20s, also takes on smaller, commissions — like creating a light-catcher with pressed flowers to commemorate the memory of a client’s deceased loved one.

When he has time, he enjoys tackling projects that spring from his own imagination and present various problem-solving challenges — like making unusual mood lights in the shape of musical instruments.

Leach’s first sculpture of a wire guitar was purchased by his roommate. The artist said he’s always loved the lyrical form of instruments, “they’re like a piece of art.”

Some of his instrumental pieces — including his sold-out 2008 series of metal-and-glass replicas of guitars used by female performers, including Sue Foley, Ellen McIlwaine, Romi Mayes and Roxanne Potvin — “are like an ode to the musicians themselves.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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