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John Lamb, Published June 02 2013

VIDEO: Moorhead artist uses metal to craft culinary creatures

MOORHEAD - On her six acres north of Moorhead, Karman Rheault lives with her husband, three daughters, a dog, a couple of cats, two horses and a handful of geese.

There used to be goats, but they started taking over the house.

Rheault has some new creatures for the compound, but instead of starting to take over her house, they are coming out of the kitchen and finding new homes.

This spring Rheault, a sculptor, started creating figures out of old cooking wares and equipment. The resulting “kitchen creatures,” as she calls them, are fast becoming her calling card.

Bodies made of old metal pots, bowls, pans or some kind of canisters sport heads, arms, legs, sometimes antennae or wings, all fashioned from old objects in kitchen cabinets and drawers.

“I’m sure I’m not the only person who welds together house junk,” she says with a laugh, surrounded by metal pieces in her studio.

Indeed, she readily acknowledges the idea for her newest creations came from a visit to a Salt Lake City gallery, filled with different kinds of creatures.

“You walked in and you just laughed. They were funny. They were whimsical,” she explains. “I decided when I got back home I needed to make something a little more light, and when they walk by the gallery maybe they see them and make them smile.”

When she returned to Moorhead, she still had to deal with an ongoing kitchen remodel. She used the opportunity to clean house – or at least the kitchen – and get rid of old items and accessories and brought the metal bits to her studio in a nearby shed.

Through the spring she’s been welding items together to make cookware creatures, then bringing them to her co-op, Gallery 4, in the Black Building on Broadway, to sell.

The pieces hang in the window, looking out onto Broadway and catching the eye of passers-by.

The works have also caught the eyes of her colleagues.

Sandi Hanson, another Gallery 4 member, couldn’t pass one up. She bought one made of a Jell-O mold with whisks for antennae, forks for feet and washers for eyes.

“I just thought it was a good lake piece,” Hanson says.

“These are fairly quick,” Rheault says. “The most time-consuming part is collecting all of the little parts, which is pretty fun. I just run to thrift stores and garage sales and things like that. People have started collecting for me too, which is kind of awesome. If it’s metal, I’ll take it.”

Most recently she’s moved past the kitchen. One of her latest figures was a dragonfly made of a metal bat with sink stoppers for eyes.

Rheault used to focus on painting but on a whim a few years ago she took some lessons in metal work and was immediately hooked.

“Since I learned how to weld I pretty much scrapped painting and haven’t really touched a paint brush,” she says. “Metal is super fun. Very versatile. You can make different things, whether they’re functional or pieces of wall art. The fact that you can grab it and bend it and cut it and take this flat sheet of steel and transform it into something three-dimensional is fun.”

In her shop, she shows just how fast the pieces come together. On this day she starts with a toaster from a thrift store and adds two metal rings for eyes.

“The tricky part is seeing if various metals will weld together,” she says. “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I grab another piece and try something else.”

On this day, it’s all working. After the eyes, a lock plate is added as a mouth, a spoon for a nose, blender beaters to make antennae, forks for arms and pre-cut wings and a mustache cut from scrap metal pieces in a bin next to the shop.

“My kids love it if I put a mustache on,” Rheault says. “And those are the ones that sell quickest at the gallery, so that works.”

Six minutes later, the piece is done.

“Some of them are super quick, some of them I struggle with a little more. It just depends on how well things go.”

She acknowledges that she’s still learning the trade and some of the welding spots aren’t the cleanest, so she prices accordingly. Most of her creatures range from $35 to $85, the most expensive piece being an old cigarette butt can fashioned into an alligator.

“A lot of these pieces inspire more pieces,” she says. “People just like a little bit of joy.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533