Cory Holmes and Tom Otherness pair art & friendship

Sculptors team up in Havre with exhibit of “Orphaned Iron” and “Loopy Landscapes”

Art Beat

Artists from New York City and Havre join forces in a photography and sculpture show, on display through Oct. 31 at Artitudes Gallery, located on the upper level of the Atrium in Havre.

The most famous anonymous sculptor in Montana, Cory Holmes of Havre, shares his eccentric, welded fence art in “Orphaned Iron”: the tandem exhibit also features sculptor Tom Otterness, who ventures into panoramic photography for his portion of the show, titled “Loopy Landscapes.”

Cory Holmes welds together found steel objects in his "Orphaned Iron" sculptures.
Cory Holmes welds together found steel objects in his “Orphaned Iron” sculptures.

To create his sculptures, Holmes welds together found steel objects. These materials could include machine gun links, buggy parts or railroad spikes.

Among his better-known works are the Iron Buffalo on Main St. in Havre, giant iron spiders crawling on rooftops, or more abstract objects that appear on random fence posts between Havre and the Bear Paw mountains. Some are graced with poetic, but enigmatic titles like “Angels Wept,” “A Tsunami of Sloth” or “Robbed Of All Dignity.”

Holmes has installed over 750 sculptures in 17 states and four Canadian provinces in the last 22 years. He roams the country in a pickup alongside his toughest critic, wife Charlotte Miller-Holmes, or with a small gang of retired railroaders. After choosing a fence post for the sculpture installation, and using Zen-like intuition, Holmes records the sculpture’s exact location with a GPS.

“Cory’s populist impulse in his work as the ‘Fence Post Bandit’ is almost like a 3D version of the train graffiti that travels on boxcars,” says Otterness, who came to Havre with his partner, the filmmaker Coleen Fitzgibbon, 30 years ago. They have returned with their daughter Kelly every summer since.

After a mysterious iron sculpture with the title, “A Twinge of Resentment,” showed up on one of the couple’s fence posts west of town, Otterness asked people in Havre who the anonymous artist was and eventually tracked down Holmes. The two families have remained friends for the last 20 years.

Otterness may well be “the world’s best public sculptor,” as the art critic Ken Johnson opined in The New York Times in 2002. Public art is his focus, and Otterness has had major outdoor exhibitions of his sculptures throughout the U.S. and around the world. Considered one of the most prolific public sculptors in America, Otterness has over 35 permanent installations in locations that range from small towns in western Washington to international sites like the Doha International Airport in Qatar.

He typically casts his smiley-faced cartoon-figure sculptures in bronze, and many pieces are designed with children in mind. However, having grown up in Kansas, flat landscapes are nothing new to him. Inspired by the plains and the endless sky of the Hi-Line, he began using the panorama setting on his camera to craft the fluid, painterly image on display in “Loopy Landscapes.”

The inspiration for this exhibition came from the painter Kris Shaw. After seeing Otterness’ landscapes, many of which featured Holmes’ fence sculptures, she offered both artists a two-month show.

“Good friends and their art: It’s a perfect pairing!” says Shaw.