This story previously had the wrong title for Sen. Linda Evans Parlette. The error has been corrected in this version.
Massive steel sculptures created by a well-known artist of the Colville Indian Reservation are turning up far from the sculptor’s home near Omak.
To the north, Virgil “Smoker” Marchand took one piece as far as Edmonton, and more than a dozen of his larger-than-life works are scattered across the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve, just across the Canada border from Oroville.
To the east, his warrior on horseback near Plummer, Idaho, serves as a veterans memorial for the Coeur d’Alene Tribes, and another sculpture is ready to be unveiled at the tribes’ casino.
To the south, on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, his sculpture from two years ago, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death, brought five bands of Apaches together for the first time in decades.
Soon, the 60-year-old artist will bring several pieces west for the first time, to the Beebe Springs Natural Area on Highway 97 near Chelan Falls, where a new wildlife reserve and rest stop is taking shape.
There, a salmon chief on horseback soon will welcome visitors at the park’s entrance. Travelers who stop also will find a steel fishing camp, root diggers, and other sculptures depicting early American Indian life along the site’s interpretive trails.
Usually teeming with symbolism like coyotes, buffalo, arrows and feathers, Marchand’s sculptures are known far and wide in the tribal art world. They are now creeping off the Indian reservations and into mainstream culture.
Marchand creates these huge pieces of art after work, and on weekends.
During the week, he’s a planner for the Colville Tribal Planning Department, where he’s worked for 33 years. He said he’s grateful, because it’s allowed him to provide for his large family. He has seven children and 12 grandchildren (soon to be 13), he said, smiling.
Marchand said he could probably make a living as an artist if he lived in a metropolitan area.
“But I like where I’m at,” he said. He lives close to his family, and the ancestral lands of his Arrow Lakes Band — one of the 12 tribes represented by the Colvilles — which stretch far into Canada.
He works in a shop next to his house east of Omak, below sage-covered foothills where coyotes sing. His uncle, Gary McClung, does most of his welding. Behind his shop there’s a barn with horses, and in the field next to it, a racetrack, where his wife, Anne, teaches young jockeys to ride.
Creating sculptures, training horses and playing in a fastpitch softball league in Canada all keep him busy when he’s not at work.
“Sometimes, me and my wife even spend a couple of hours together,” he joked.
In mid-February, Marchand and his uncle braved gusty winds on a Sunday morning to work on the salmon chief sculpture for Beebe Springs.
State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette — who convinced other lawmakers that the state should buy the 63-acre riverfront property north of Beebe Bridge — said she wanted the site’s heritage honored, and sought ideas from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and local pioneer families.
“I wanted an icon at Beebe Springs that little kids would remember, and maybe they would want their little kids to remember, and somebody gave me the name of Smoker Marchand,” the Wenatchee Republican said.
Parlette was sold when she saw Marchand’s artwork.
Clarence Louie, chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band in Canada, said Marchand’s work is already iconic in British Columbia. His sculptures are featured in travel brochures for both the Osoyoos band and the B.C. province. He said he often sees tourists having their pictures taken standing next to Marchand’s work.
Louie is known for the Osoyoos band’s many successful economic ventures, and over the past decade, has become Marchand’s best patron.
“You can’t have a first-class operation without first-class art,” Louie said. When people come to a tribal business, they expect to see art that depicts the cultural aspects of the First Nations, he said.
At least 10 sculpture sites, several with multiple pieces, can be found at the Osoyoos band’s golf course, school, cultural center, RV park, winery and other locations. A new piece will be dedicated this spring at the tribe’s business park.
The chief said he likes working with Marchand because, as the person who’s buying the artwork, he wants to help design it. And unlike many of the architects he’s worked with, Marchand lets him.
“He’s willing to set his ego aside. I can say, ‘I don’t like that. Take this out and put that in,’ and he does,” Louie said.
Becoming a steelworker
Marchand was already a recognized artist, and was ready for a change when he journeyed into steel sculpture.
“You had to sell yourself with paintings,” he said. “And you always had to come up with a name. People would ask you why you did the painting. ‘What does it mean? What do you call it?’ With steelwork, I don’t get that experience.”
Now people see his work, and come to him to commission a piece.
“It’s basically word of mouth. I don’t really advertise. It’s like the moccasin telegraph,” he said.
Marchand doesn’t keep a stock of completed steel sculptures to sell, because steel is so expensive, and people often want something specific. Instead, he creates them on request. Depending on the complexity and how much steel it takes, he sells them for $17,000 to $25,000.
Breaking into this new medium wasn’t easy.
For a few years, Marchand traveled every weekend to Colfax — a three-hour commute one way — to learn how to use a plasma cutter, and to learn welding.
“I’d never welded before,” he said. “The sparks scared me and I burned myself.”
Steel is not an easy material to use, Marchand said. A 3/16-inch sheet the size of plywood weighs 300 pounds. He calls on his sons to help him move it. “A quarter-inch, you don’t even try to pick up,” he said. In the winter, the steel gets really cold, and stays cold.
Once it’s sitting on the sawhorses, he draws his design with chalk. In a few minutes, he can cut around the edges with a plasma cutter, and poke it to the ground, where it falls with a clang. It takes longer to smooth the edges, and the whole process creates plasma dust — tiny dark particles that are unhealthy to breathe and coat all of the surfaces in his shop.
Marchand said he didn’t create all these sculptures for the money — although he’s sometimes tested by that assertion when he doesn’t get paid. But in theory, he said, his reason is a simple one: “If you have a gift, you should share it with everybody as much as you can.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512