he gets started, Jay Laber can twist, turn, carve, cut and weld
abandoned cars into spectacular images with so much detail it’s
possible to see the nose hair on a buffalo.
any visitor to the Missoula Art Museum can look closely at Laber’s
work outside on the north side of the building - and see the texture
of the buffalo’s tongue.
wasn’t always that committed to detail.
a Blackfeet artist who lives on the Flathead Reservation, used to
look at a junked, rusted car and imagine the infinite possibilities
- wild hair swirling above the head of a dancing warrior, a horse
running on an open plain, an eagle soaring above the antlers of
a bugling elk.
has succeeded in capturing time and sealing the moment in steel.
MAM is displaying Laber’s work as part of its “Elk Dogs” exhibit,
which continues through Feb. 21. It’s being displayed in the Lynda
M. Frost Contemporary American Indian Gallery.
gallery talk and artist reception is scheduled on Dec. 5.
“Elk Dogs” installation features four invited artists, including
Laber, Damian Charette, David Dragonfly and Jeneese Hilton. Additional
“elk dog” art was chosen from the museum’s contemporary Indian art
many indigenous languages, the name elk dog is the historical translation
for the horse, an animal brought to the North American continent
by the Spaniards. The Natives described the horse as an animal as
big as an elk and saw an animal that could be used to pack goods
like a dog.
MAM exhibit is a tribute to horses, seen through the eyes of Natives.
of the first metal horses Laber created were designed to be seen
from a distance, like a mile away.
purposely didn’t want people to know it was made from junk,” he
he didn’t care much if his warrior had eyebrows.
now that his sculptures are being purchased for upward of $10,000,
he finds his art being displayed up close and in easily accessible
places, like on the front lawn of a museum in downtown Missoula.
So, he’s careful to take his time and shape tubes of metal into
a finely detailed necklace.
hasn’t changed is his penchant for automobile parts, barbed wire
and farm machinery. He credits Corky Clairmont, an art instructor
at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, for inspiring him to use what
was in his immediate environment.
from Browning,” said Laber. “I think he thought I was going to use
rocks or dirt. On my reservation, it was junked cars.”
remembers when Laber first started taking art classes at the college
on the Flathead Reservation. As a pupil, the Blackfeet student tended
to think of his art projects on a larger-than-life scale.
had some real ambition, a lot of creative energy,” said Clairmont.
“He asked if he could do a larger sculpture than the one assigned
in class. He eventually got it all put together. It was a large
buffalo made of recycled car parts, and parts of a combine.”
piece was later sold and shipped to Germany.
Glueckert, MAM curator, said Laber brings a sense of humor to his
work, as well as a celebration of tribal history in which his ancestors
once used every part of the buffalo.
has art in his blood,” said Glueckert.
Montana, Laber’s work can be seen at entrances to the Blackfeet
Reservation, in Glacier National Park and on the Salish Kootenai
permanent art display on the campus was commissioned for a political
event. With that in mind, Laber said he was inspired to do a piece
on “what a buffalo thinks of politicians.”
artist molded and shaped a giant rusted buffalo - and welded a mirror
under its tail.
Jodi Rave can be reached at 800-366-7186 or email@example.com.