Railroad conductor is a sculptor of an unusual sort
By Tim Leeds
There are some special bugs in the yard of Cory and Charlotte Holmes.
They are metal bugs that Cory Holmes has built over the past few years, forging and welding them in his spare time.
Holmes said that over the last three years or so he has built about 70 metal sculptures. Some are sculptures of people, but most are of bugs. The bugs include spiders, centipedes, weevils, butterflies, beetles and ants.
"Lots of ants," he said.
Twenty or 30 years ago Holmes took a class in metal sculpture at Northern Montana College, and enjoyed working in the medium. A few years ago he was building a 2,700-foot wrought iron fence around his property, and began making sculptures out of the leftover scraps. Holmes said he started by sculpting spiders to hide in his wife's garden to scare her.
"Because bored people would do strange things," he said.
Pretty soon people were stopping by his yard, looking at the sculptures and wanting to buy them. Of the 70 or so sculptures he has made, he said, he has sold about 50. He started showing them in art shows and also sells them over the Internet, including auctions on eBay. Some of his work is in a gallery in Whitefish.
Larry and Connie Lund of North Havre bought two of Holmes' pieces and use them as lawn ornaments.
"But I'm anxious to get back and get some more," Larry Lund said. "I've always been so impressed with his imagination."
Lund said Holmes' talent shows in his ability to forge and weld the pieces. He said the realism is amazing.
Holmes has now sold pieces in 13 states, as far away as Massachusetts, and is packaging a sculpture of a wolf spider right now to ship to Mississippi.
"Which is the epicenter, incidentally, for brown recluse spiders," he said.
He said he has standing orders to make more of the sculptures, but he's just making the pieces one at a time.
"I started this for fun and I don't want it to eat me alive," he said.
Holmes has an extensive photographic display of his sculptures on the Internet. He has a section entitled "iamasculptor" on Excite's Webshots site. Surfers can view his "Army Ant," wearing a helmet and manning a machine gun, or "Ant Walking Roach," "Jitterbuggers" and "Gear Weevil" and other insects, as well as more traditional sculptures like "Iron Cowboy on a Horse o' Steel" or "Armored Charger."
Holmes, who has worked as a conductor for the Burlington Northern and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railways for 23 years, said his sculpting is generally a wintertime activity.
"It's generally not that much fun to be outside in January or February," he said.
The time it takes to make a sculpture, and the price he charges for it, depends on the size and intricacy of the piece and the process and materials used to make it. He said, for example, it is impossible to weld brass to steel and difficult to weld cast iron very well at all.
Holmes said he choses the pieces he uses to make his sculptures because of their unique shape or appearance.
"Occasionally I'll find a part and I'll say, I see a bug here,'" he said.
Antique parts often have the perfect shape for his work. Most of the teeth on his spider sculptures, for example, are made from the sickle teeth from an 1800s horse-drawn combine.
Using antique or weathered metal causes its own problems. Holmes said the pieces have to be prepared, polished and shined before they will hold a good weld. The preparation time generally takes longer than the welding time.
"It's frustrating, not as fun," he said.
The medium Holmes uses is called "direct metal sculpture."
"I take the metal and hand-fashion and forge these things," he said. He said it's also considered "outside art" because it is outside of the general realm of fine art, such as painting or sketches.
Holmes said the medium is outside more traditional metal sculpture as well. From the Greeks and Romans to modern Europeans, he said, artists usually first make a model, generally out of clay or wax, then make a mold from the model. The artist pours molten metal into the mold to make the cast metal sculpture.
Holmes said it took a long time to get the equipment and facilities he needed to do the work he does now. He has quite a selection of equipment and parts in his garage and shop, including a couple of partially completed larger projects.
"What I'm building these for is with an eye to put in museums might be kind of a lofty event to aim for," he said.
One of the pieces is a metal saxophone player, about 5 feet tall, followed by six spiders, each about 3 feet in size.
"It's going to be the Spied Piper,'" Holmes said.
The other will be about 38 feet long when completed. The sculpture will be of an 1885 Wells Fargo Heavy Concord stagecoach pulled by six spiders in harness, with a praying mantis holding a flyswatter as the coachman.
Holmes said his work isn't limited to sculpture.
"Actually, I'm writing a book, a children's book for adults which is interesting, don't you think? This one has some strange bends and flips in it," he said.
He said he still has about 2,200 to 2,300 feet to go on the wroughtiron fence, too.
"It's kind of an epic, ongoing many-year project," he said.