Susan Church is a rancher and sculptor who lives in Elko County. Her work will be on exhibit, along with watercolors by Stephen Reid, at the Carson City Community Center, 851 E. Williams St., Carson City, from March 2-June 30, with an artist’s reception March 2 from 5-7 p.m.
How did you get into welding and making sculpture?
Being raised on a ranch and growing up with a dad who repaired a lot of machinery. It just came as part of the environment. And using recycled things came from being around historical junkyards and things. I was raised on the family ranch, moved away and came back, oh, 20 years later, and we’ve been here working on this part of the ranch 25 years. I live on a remote part of the ranch now, and it’s great for making artwork. At the last minute, before a show, I always get great idea.
What last-minute ideas do you have right now?
It always depends on what we’re doing this time of year. It’s weather-related, nature-related, agriculture-related. I’m using old rake teeth and doing some forging on them. Parts of [that piece] are forged. Parts of it are welded. Sometimes the last-minute projects are my favorite things.
You have a few public sculptures out in the world, too, right?
Mostly here in Elko at Great Basin College. And when I was 18, I thought I could pull off doing the one on the library. It’s still there, and I look back and go, “What was I thinking?” I learned a lot about public art. You need to make things pass all kinds of codes. In the city park, for the sesquicentennial, I did a big sagebrush there.
Is the junkyard still a good source of materials?
Yes, it’s like a shopping mall. I like to say I’ve got things kind of in aisles and bins, and I probably won’t live long enough to weld it all up. People give me things, too. A lot of times you find things around the ranch. It seems like when there is a flood or a big storm, it washes away some dirt. So there’s always something that was right underfoot that you never saw before. I’m trying not to let [the junkyard pile] grow. And the horses and the bulls can’t get in there and get on anything sharp, so I have to be careful with my storage. There’s a lot of history with the old metals. Our family’s been ranching for almost 150 years. They didn’t have welders and hydraulics and four-wheel drives. I started using [our older equipment] as a teenager. My first sculpture was made out of a rake piece. We don’t use those kind of rakes anymore. They’re kind of semicircles that have aged lying the in the dirt, so the patina’s kind of tactile. I have this spiral of barbed wire that’s been around waiting for the right time and piece, and it’s fitting into this one.
One of the rules I live by is that I won’t allow myself to alter something. I go, “You can bend it just a little. You can leave something broken or twisted as it is.”
Tell me about more of the pieces in your upcoming show.
Part of this series I will be showing in Carson is relating to sage grouse. They’re part of our ecosystem here. They’re kind of in a controversial state of being an endangered species or not, but they’re an important part of how we ranch, so I’ve been doing a few pieces on them. And that’s all done with plasma cutting. My show will have both my found-object work and this other, more fabricated work. It’s always nice to get things on the wall and out of the shop, so I can see what’s going on besides feeding the cows on a ranch. It’s been an easier winter than last year, so I’ve been able to get out to that junk pile more.