Steamboat woodworker uses unexpected downtime to work on art
February 19, 2011
Steamboat Springs — All Brian Leach remembers from Nov. 3, 2010, is the color of his ladder.
While working on a construction site, the local carpenter and artist fell from that green ladder, hitting his face on a piece of wood and breaking the bones around his left eye, his left arm and his right ankle.
But that's not enough to end his lifelong relationship with wood as a way to make a living and lively, sustainable works of art.
"I've always thought of it as if it was alive," Leach said about working with wood. "We surround ourselves with it and it's a beautiful thing, and if I can add something to it or sometimes take something away, then that's a great thing."
In the three months that he's been mostly incapacitated, Leach has focused more on his burnt wood art, something he hopes will sustain him on its own one day.
Leach's work, which consists of wood panels, art objects and skateboard decks with burned-in designs, is on display at Vertical Arts Architecture in Wildhorse Plaza and RED Contemporary Gallery at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. He also has several illustrations on display at Urbane on Seventh Street.
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Jennifer Helm, an interior designer at Vertical Arts, where Leach was featured at an art opening Feb. 11, said his pieces could be a good fit for any kind of space.
"It's both architecture and interior design," Helm said. "And it's so creative. It could really go anywhere."
One piece on display at Vertical Arts on Friday was a long, cane-like stick emblazoned with Polynesian-inspired flower designs etched with a wood burner.
"I guess I see it on a mantle, or somewhere that somebody can appreciate the beauty of what it is, what it was, and what it's become," Leach said.
His wood comes from all over, but often from the trash. Pieces of cedar, oak, and his favorite wood, alder, that once were scraps are brought to life when he sees something in them, like a cedar plank that looked to him like a long, lanky leg.
That piece turned into a painted wood panel of cedar and walnut with the shape of legs and feet burned into it.
The piece was made about three years ago when he first started experimenting with a wood burner he got from Walmart, but in a strange twist of irony, Leach found something ominous in his older work.
While making the piece, he had cut out an L-shape of cedar somewhere around the right anklebone and replaced it with walnut to add a dimension of alternate texture and grain.
It was "trippy" to him that he had given special attention in that piece to a body part where, years later, he would sustain one of the worst injuries of his life.
"Who knows what to make of something like that," he said.
As he continues to rehabilitate his ankle and slowly get back to work swinging a hammer, Leach hopes to progress into building furniture and has started to experiment with painting colors onto his panels.
And even though his line of work and love of creating has left him limping, it's likely that for a long time to come, he'll be the guy walking around town on a Friday afternoon with his shoes covered in wood shavings.
"I figure it's something I love to do, and if others like and appreciate it, that's a great reward," he said.
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or e-mail ninglis@SteamboatToday.com