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Creating steel artworks with wife’s help a great experience, artist says

While Superman’s nickname is the “Man of Steel” because of his imperviousness to bullets, artist Bill Keen could likely be known by the same moniker because of the materials he uses for his artworks.

While Superman’s nickname is the “Man of Steel” because of his imperviousness to bullets, artist Bill Keen could likely be known by the same moniker because of the materials he uses for his artworks.

Keen, 77, began sculpting in Yorkton using materials such as copper, brass and stainless steel, before he and his wife Laurette moved to the Moose Jaw area 52 years ago. He switched to steel about 30 years ago to make his creations — he’s well known for his wall-hanging and free-standing trees — because he could do more with that material.

The Keens are one of eight groups participating in this year’s 10th annual Moostletoe Tour, which occurs Saturday, Oct. 15, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Keens’ gallery is located at 127 Calypso Drive.  

Bill has relied more on his wife during the three decades to add the finishing touches to his creations, including making his artwork more colourful and life-like with paint.

“She puts all the final touches and the colours into the product … ,” Bill said. “It works really, really well. So we’ve become a team for the last 25, 30 years. Every sculpture that I’ve produced in the last 25, 30 years, (Laurette) has been part of it. And she has a great eye for colour.”

He pointed to a life-size steel falcon he created as an example of his wife’s abilities. The sculpture looks real, whether up close or far away, because of the colours Laurette used. 

“When he brings it (a sculpture) in, it’s a beautiful shape and everything, but it’s kind of plain. The painting makes it look realistic,” said Laurette. “I guess I’ve just learned over the years how to do that. I don’t know. It’s just happened.”

“You just have to look at her handwriting; it’s beautiful writing,” said Bill. “So that tells you right there that (Laurette's) very artistic.”

With a smile, Bill agreed that having Laurette as his partner-in-crime — and he hers — is great because they’re always working together. Laurette replied that she critiques his work, while they both know they won’t sell something unless they both like it.

“We’ve been married 54 years, so something has to be working,” Laurette chuckled.

Encouraging help

The Keens met community artists Gus Froese and Wally Smith when they moved to Moose Jaw 52 years ago. 

“They saw my work and they thought I had something going there,” said Bill. “They gave me the inspiration, definitely. And then it just mushroomed from there. It took off.”

Bill participated with Smith in a couple of shows and found immediate success, which made him realize there was interest in his creations, said Laurette. 

The steel artist experiences an adrenaline rush or psychological reward when he finishes his work and sees that people like it, he said. He compared that moment to when athletes — including seniors — perform well in sports.

“(It’s) a bonus if you sell it,” he added. 

A great tour

This will be the fifth year that the Keens have participated in the Moostletoe Tour. Bill says that it’s a fantastic activity, while it’s exciting that new artists have joined. He thought visitors would be pleasantly surprised when they saw the new artists’ work.

“It’s good to get people out, especially when the weather is nice. They love coming out (and) having something to do,” said Laurette. “And we’ve been missing that for three years, so everybody’s anxious to get back.”

It’s also great that some newer artists are younger because they will attract a younger audience that complements the older crowds, said Bill. These younger artists can also acquire more publicity for their work.

Unique creations

Every sculpture that Bill creates is unique and one-of-a-kind, with no two items the same, said Laurette. Professional welders are surprised when they see his work since working with steel takes patience.

“Plus, I can’t believe sometimes the fine work he does (and the need for) eyesight and hand co-ordination … ,” she continued. “There’s no way you can make anything fast (and) there’s no way you can stamp anything out (because of the small technical details).”

“It’s all done from scratch. I never use a mould,” said Bill. “Most of the diagrams are in my head.”

The Keens added that Bill has several projects nearing completion. However, they declined to say what those were since they wanted the reveals to be a secret until then.

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