By Holly Endersby
Ask Greg Gresham how he got started making amazing metal sculptures from found items, and he laughs.
“My wife, Nancy, threatened to buy me a welder to keep me busy after I retired as Postmaster in Grangeville,” Greg said. “And somehow the art just grew from there.”
Greg said Nancy has been an active member of the Salmon River Art Guild for many years, and he helped by building panels for artists to display their works as well as helped set up shows.
“I finally noticed nobody was doing any metal work, but at the time I didn’t really think I could create pieces people would buy,” he said. “But I looked at some metal art online and just started trying out a few ideas. So basically, I’m self-taught.”
Greg is always on the lookout for old tools to incorporate into his sculptures, and friends help him find these treasures, often at old ranches around the area. Sometimes folks bring him items that have special meaning for them.
“Last fall a friend brought me a box of old tools that were his grandfather’s and asked me to make something out of them. He really didn’t have any idea what he wanted, but he entrusted me with these tools that meant a lot to him, so I wanted to make something special for him,” Greg explained. “But I warn people that I will often have to cut up what they bring me, and it may not look like the same thing when I’m done.”
In the case of his friend, his grandfather’s tools ended up becoming a lighthouse.
“I prefer to make something unique and personal for each person, but I really liked how the lighthouse turned out, and so did my friend, so I made a similar one to sell at the fall art show.”
Some friends who own a ranch in nearby Anatone, Wash., invited Gresham to come and check out old farm equipment and take what he wanted for his sculptures before they put the home on the market to sell. According to Gresham, he found some great pieces and added to his continually growing “junk pile.”
“You really have to have a pretty good ‘junk pile’ to go to,” He explained. “It allows me to embellish a piece, to get it where I want it to be.”
According to Gresham, sometimes, people will see a sculpture at a show and ask him to do something similar with items they already have.
“For example, a friend saw a horse head I did and wanted one made from things used at her old family ranch. She even brought an old branding iron to use in the sculpture,” he said. “People know that I can always customize a piece for them.”
Most of Gresham’s material means a lot to the people who bring him metal to use.
“The uniqueness of the piece is priceless for the people who bring me objects, because almost always the pieces have been in the family.”
Even though he’s made seven or eight horse heads for people, each one is different.
“The latest one I did was a present for a young woman graduating from beauty school, who also loved horses,” he said. “I was even able to use a pair of hair scissors in the piece, so it means even more to the girl.”
On a personal note, a dear friend had Gresham make a horse head for my 70th birthday, including old bits and other items my friend had secretly taken from our tack room. Since I own Morgan horses, Gresham made sure to give my piece a mane made from chains to mimic the long, flowing manes of my Morgans.
Creating a new piece often means studying the metal that he might want to use. For example, he was given an old-fashioned push mower with the exposed blades, and he just had the urge to use the entire reel in a big sculpture.
“That’s how Homer the moose got made,” he laughed. “I just wanted to make a full-sized sculpture with that old reel. The more I looked at the mower, I thought I really want to make a moose, and the reel could be the main body part. I had nothing to go on but some photos of moose I pulled off the Internet. Now the sculpture stands in our garden, and my wife sits on the porch and has coffee with Homer every day.”
A car spring turned into the body of a fish, and an old harden hoe blade became its tail. Other metal parts turned into birds for a pond in Elk City, and garden roosters and chickens are popular as well.
Gresham works almost exclusively on private commission, but he does display smaller pieces at the Idaho Banana Company in Riggins as well as at the two shows the art guild holds each year. Currently, Gresham’s next show will be the Fall Salmon River Art Guild show the first weekend in October at the Riggins community center.
Last year his metal fish won first place at the fall show. The Guild also has a spring show each year in May on Father’s Day weekend, and its held at the IWOF hall in Whitebird during the town’s annual Whitebird Days.
“I’ve really never been artistic,” Greg claimed. “I can’t draw, and I’ve never had any formal training. I’ve been asked to submit pieces to other shows, but I’d just rather do personalized commissions that mean a lot to my customers. It’s just fun to use old tools, things people identify with, and turn them into art that people really care about.” ISI