Fusing many parts to create the whole

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – On Oct. 22 the most recent addition to Big Sky’s blossoming public art movement—an initiative of the Arts Council—was installed in Town Center, this time a bison sculpture by Belgrade artist Kirsten Kainz on the northeast corner of Fire Pit Park. The sculpture is on loan and will remain in its current location for at least one year.

A complex assemblage of repurposed metal—gears, tools, chains, keys, car parts and the like—the sculpture was designed to be interactive, and incorporates dials that spin, switches that switch, and a tail and fur made of loose, jiggly chain. She even hid a geocache pod somewhere in the body of the bison, but won’t divulge its precise location—geocachers have to find it.

Sometimes it’s simply the shape or beauty of an object that attracts Kainz. But for the Big Sky piece, which she knew would be seen by a lot of people, she looked for components that were easily identifiable, or had a humorous, playful, or interesting aspect to them.

This bison sculpture by Belgrade artist Kirsten Kainz is the newest public art addition to Town Center. On loan to the Arts Council of Big Sky, “Waldazo” will remain on the corner of Fire Pit Park for at least one year. PHOTO BY DOUG HARE

As Kainz’s renown has spread, she’s had to spend less time foraging for materials in junk- and recycling yards, as admirers of her work increasingly contact her with offers of metal cast-offs. Such was the case for the Big Sky sculpture, named “Waldazo” after the poetry alias of the late father of the woman who donated its parts.

“[Her father] had an incredible collection of iron, junk really, and she invited me to take a look,” Kainz said. “I tried to purchase it, but all she wanted was for me to name the piece for her father.”

The artist is often asked how long it took to create the bison, how much it weighs and how many parts it’s made of.

“It took too long; it weighs too much; and there are way too many pieces in it,” is Kainz’s standardized response.

After experimenting with many sculptural mediums in college—ceramics, glass blowing and bronze casting—Kainz discovered metalsmithing and her creative heart was captured.

“The processes involved are so amazing and then there’s the longevity and permanence of the product,” she explained. “There are so many avenues you can take—casting, cutting, shaping, soldering, hammering—to achieve your vision … there are just so many possibilities.”

However, about 12 years ago, just before Kainz had her first child, she decided to teach herself how to paint, largely because of the health hazards of working with metal, and knowing that she’d need a creative outlet she could practice at home, and during the long winters, when she was unable to sculpt.

She gets a different kind of satisfaction from this relatively new medium.

“It’s just a completely different language, a completely different process,” Kainz said. “I make discoveries almost daily.” Her paintings are predominantly impressionistic landscapes that often feature a horse or two, an animal she admits being a little obsessed with because she “sees them as people.” She feels that viewers can better identify with the landscape through the horse’s presence.

Her sculptures pepper downtown Bozeman: a cow in front of the Bozeman Public Library, a blue tortoise on Main Street, a butterfly outside the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture, a giant ladybug on Tracy Avenue, a large chandelier in the Lark Hotel, and a large moose at MAP Brewing, which she co-owns with her husband, Patrick Kainz.

Her work ranges from the serious, such as “How the West was One”—another bison but this one dripping bright red chains from its coat—to the purely whimsical, like the glossy green caterpillar installed at the Bozeman headquarters of the nonprofit Thrive.

“I think when I’m creating, it just goes in accordance with what I’m feeling or seeing,” Kainz said. “So if I’m really feeling intensely about a certain issue, that will come out in my work and sometimes it’s a little dark. But there’s also a really important place for fun and accessible energy as well. I do make pieces just for the wonderfulness of them too.”

Visit kirstenkainz.net for more information and to see more of the artist’s work.