Michael Perks is a snowmaker and a rust farmer. The 37-year-old Millwright alumnus has used his skills to wander down more than one path in life. His most recent turn has been a meander into the world of public art.Perks completed his SAIT education in 2006 while working for the ski hill at Lake Louise. He was a snowmaker and the craft requires a millwright's expertise. He lived in the mountains, made snow, and spent every weekend with his girlfriend, Claire Thompson. It sounds idyllic, but this lifestyle actually kept the couple apart.
They wanted to be together, so Michael left the hill and moved to the city. Claire was putting her MBA to use in a marketing job in Calgary. His plan was to fabricate parts and inventions he believed were missing from the snowmaking industry. The first year was tough. The items didn't sell well, and Michael began experimenting with artistic renderings from metal.
He dropped out of art school years ago, frustrated by the focus on painting and drawing. "I like to work," he says, grinning.
"He tried all these things, and the art is what sold," says Claire. Little Monkey Metal Works - named as a play on the ski hill slang "lift monkey" - was born. Claire eventually quit her job to run the business. She spends a great deal of time, she says, analyzing what sells and what's worth Michael's time.
"Mike knows nothing about business, and I know nothing about fabrication. The two sides of the business are really separate," she says. "That's why it works."
Two years ago, they married and moved to a property - dubbed Little Monkey Wranch - just a few kilometres west of Okotoks to increase Michael's shop space.
The ranch sits in a gully, next to a small pond, and the yard provides an outdoor gallery of Michael's art.
An almost life-sized horse made of rusted chain link rears up on its back legs. A silver angel pulls her knees up to her chest; a rusted circle of intricate interwoven designs frames her. At least three people a week stop by to peruse the yard's gazebo that acts as an indoor art gallery.
Michael uses acid to prematurely rust metals in many of his pieces, and that's why he calls himself a rust farmer. The effect is dramatic, especially in contrast to shiny, sleek metals - such as the angel piece.
Last year, Perks won best new artist at the Calgary Stampede's Western Art Showcase. This past spring, he worked on a massive project for Calgary's trendy antique district, Inglewood. He created garbage bins to line the streets that are not only practical, but also artful - cutout scenes show birds perched high atop the city on electrical wires, or a man riding a bicycle.
They're his creations from start to finish. He drew the images on large sheets of paper, knocked them into an XYZ axis, input this into a computer program and employed a plasma metal cutter - which uses electricity and compressed air to essentially turn the cut-out part to dust - to render each serene scene.
"Michael doing art, design and fabrication is a bit of (an) anomaly," says Claire, who adds that most designers work with a fabricator. Perks calls the millwright ticket the "jack of all trades" because he says it incorporates skill sets from each one. And if anyone is proving this fact, it's him.
A city that creates together, stays together. 100 years of creating the magic behind The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
Ride - Wil Mimnaugh featuring Jamie Fooks
Every year at the Calgary Stampede Western Art Show they judge all the art on display. All artists exhibiting for the first time fall under the ‘New Artist’ category; this year there was 12. Out of 12 artists Mike won the award for the best new artist!
Over the winter we had an exciting commission from art collector, philanthropist, business giant George Brookman. Intrigued and inspired by the Michael's sculpture in front of DaDe ART & DESIGN LAB, Mr. Brookman commissioning a sculpture for the front of his new West Canadian building at the east end of 9th Ave SE.
Prime Meridian approximately 13' high by 7' wide, weighing approximately 900 lbs had to be built on-site. Installed Monday, January 17, 2011 in the bitter cold (-26°C).