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Challis welder-turned-artists melds metal, bone in works

September 18, 2018

CHALLIS — You could say Cody La Roy’s ingenious artistic output is designed by nature — but it isn’t.

La Roy, a skilled welder and budding sculptor, is the subject of an exhibit through Oct. 31 at MadDog Gallery, 632 E. Main, in Challis, where a mobile cabin he created is decorated with his novel works in metal and bone.

Metal is the most familiar material to La Roy and the bone in his artworks comes in the form of antlers shed by ungulates and, occasionally, found animal skulls. Such are the media and inspiration that make up Spar Mountain Skulls of Steel.

La Roy bends metal to his will through a fiery process that has seen him do everything from helping build tracks for roller coasters erected in places such as Paris to welding work in McDonald’s French fry factory in Washington state. He is an expert at working with performance engines and he comes by his craft honestly: his father is a welder, as was his father’s father before him.

So it was an epiphany for La Roy when he realized his craft was nearer art.

“I like to build things and I like to fix things,” he said. “Welding is an avenue for me to be able to do that. I can create most anything out of metal.”

Those were the attributes that came to the fore when La Roy considered how best to display antlers shed by a deer. He found it awkward to remove the antlers from a box and hold them in the air — sans skull — every time he wanted to show them to friends.

“I thought, ’There’s got to be something I can do to present them better,” said La Roy.

He has. His first model used exhaust pipe to create an artificial skull, which he used to display the antlers.

One of La Roy’s most cherished pastimes, from childhood to date, is venturing into the hills, looking for sheds and watching animals in their environment. It is to honor the beauty of antlers he has found — or skulls, depending — that he contributes to their embellishment.

He has since created elk antlers from muffler pipe and has used the same material to fashion moose antlers. He made a stunning sculpture featuring a bull elk with a metal skull, one fully metal antler and an antler that mixed bone and metal in a function similar to a prosthesis.

La Roy attributes much of his willingness to shape the unexpected from humble or authentic materials to his work as a welder.

“At different jobs, people came to me with a problem and asked me to build something to make it work. Fortunately, I’d been doing that a lot of years before I started doing the antlers and skulls,” he said of a period that dates to 2016.

He has shaped specific works for customers seeking a chic method to present antlers or skulls they wish to either augment or display while other customers are attracted by his originals. The scope of his work and its unabashed singularity are behind the buzz it has evoked.

When he was approached about the exhibit at MadDog Gallery, which is the brainchild of the Challis Arts Council and which houses offices for it as well as the Challis Area Chamber of Commerce, La Roy said he was humbled.

“I was nervous,” he said. “It was like . . . I don’t know if I’m that worthy. And I’m kind of a quiet individual, not a real public person.”

La Roy said he ultimately accepted the challenge with gratitude and humility and then turned his energies to creating displays that people would find unforgettable. Worried his work would damage the gallery’s walls, he also built a cabin that could be easily assembled and broken down.

Melissa Perkins Fitzgerald, administrative assistant for the local arts council and chamber director, said La Roy’s ability to span the spectrum of artistic styles — from realistic to abstract — is one of a host of reasons his work is generating excitement.

She said the exhibit features his early work as well as more recent pieces, showing his evolution as an artist.

“It’s too fabulous not to be shared,” Fitzgerald said of his art, adding, “We’re very blessed with local talent in Challis and we’re very proud to feature Cody.”

The MadDog Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be contacted at 208-879-2745 or info@challisartscouncil.org and challisarts@custertel.net.

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