OMAK — Virgil “Smoker” Marchand was already a recognized artist before he jumped into steelwork about a dozen years ago.
He was born in Inchelium and grew up in Omak with his grandmother, Mary Marchand.
She gave him his Indian name, Spa Poole, which means Smoke. “She added the ‘R’ when she was angry with me,” he said. He soon became known as Smoker.
“I was in trouble a lot,” he said. He was kicked out of the fourth grade, and then expelled again in the ninth grade. That’s when his mother got his younger brother to fill out and send an application for Smoker — using his brother’s artwork — to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. He was accepted, but not happy about it.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go to school,” he said. But he went.
“It’s a really prestigious high school. At the time when I was there, a lot of famous artists — both teachers and students — were there,” he said.
He learned everything from drawing to sculpture.
Now, he said, “I don’t limit myself to anything.”
When his son’s wife died, he made her a headstone after learning it would cost his son $3,500 to buy an engraved stone. He’s made several since then, some out of steel, with personal touches, like a hand of cards for someone who liked to play cards, or a slot machine window showing three 7s for a woman who liked to gamble.
He also designed a line of eyeglass frames called “Native Visions,” now sold by Encore Vision in Spokane, with horse, coyote or raven cutout designs.
He’s illustrated children’s books, and in November, a poster of one of his pen-and-ink drawings was distributed to nearly 3,000 USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offices around the country for American Indian Heritage Month. He designed the Colville tribe’s flag, and a logo for all of its departments.
He has nine limited-edition bronze sculptures and 11 limited-edition prints. But he also creates works that aren’t designed to last, like ice sculptures.
Marchand said in 1992 he entered the art show at the United Tribes International Powwow in Bismarck, N.D., because he wanted to know how he fit in the art world. He ended up winning the Best of Show, and People’s Choice award. “They invited me back in 1993, with an all-expense-paid trip,” he said.
Marchand said he hasn’t painted in about 10 years, but he’s thinking about getting back into working on canvas.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512