Saxonburg native forges mechanic skills into sculpture artistry

| Saturday, July 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

For Michael Bestwick, going from working on motorcycles to creating art wasn't much of a leap.

In a way, the emerging artist is able to join the two together as seamlessly as the metal sculptures that he creates, forging his impressionist sensibilities with the resourcefulness of a mechanic.

Of his creative process, he says: “As far as being a mechanic and a fabricator, I can see the same skill set coming in as when fabricating a piece of equipment.”

He is able to use many of the same tools that he used as a mechanic when creating his art, Bestwick says.

Art, however, isn't just an afterthought for the Saxonburg native and Knoch High School graduate.

Bestwick, 44, may have worked for a couple of decades as a mechanic and a truck driver, but, he says, his friends always noticed his aptitude for drawing.

When taking some time off a few years ago, he found that by focusing on art instead of autos, he was able to really find his way.

That search culminated with a community college class and work on a series of pastel paintings and drawings.

“It was my own style,” he says. “It wasn't until I took the only college class that I've ever taken where I said, ‘I guess I'm an impressionist and (my teacher) said ‘yes.' ”

Not long after, he sought inspiration and guidance at a place not far from his home in Fenelton: the Saxonburg Area Artists Co-op.

There, he discovered a knack for working with metal.

His sculptures range from larger works like an abstract owl that stands at the entrance of the co-op's gallery to flowers given as awards and even used as bridal bouquets.

He has incorporated everything from old burn barrels — from which the owl is made — to horseshoes to old tools.

“Michael's work is often a blending of blacksmithing and fine-arts sculpture,” says Sam Andrew, a director and founder of the co-op.

“I particularly like the fact that he goes to great lengths to re-use and re-purpose scrapped material and found objects.”

While found-object sculpture is not unique, according to Andrew, Bestwick's stands apart.

“It is how he crafts his sculptures, finding and using just the right objects to meld into new and interesting visual statements, giving a whole new life to “stuff” that society has long discarded on the side of the road.”

One found object has led to a project that has offered an opportunity for Bestwick to once again bring together two seemingly opposing realms in a flawless manner.

He has started creating found-object sculptures from old-fashioned horns of all types designed to pair with today's technology.

The series of sculptures is designed so a smartphone or an iPad can rest on the bell of the horn, creating what Bestwick explains is a “mechanical amplifier.”

Much like a set of speakers would, the sculpture projects sound, making whatever is playing on the electronic device louder and clearer.

The types of horns he uses have ranged from a pre-1920s automobile horn found in an old garage to a beat-up musical instrument long left behind in a high school band room.

The functional sculptures are mounted on a wooden base, which is varnished and embellished with other found objects like horseshoes and railroad spikes.

Those elements, in conjunction with the brassy tones of the horns, make for sculptures that, while both rustic and industrial, convey an overall elegance.

When it comes to the sound sculptures, Bestwick, who sold nearly every one he took to the Three Rivers Arts Festival this summer, says the response has been good.

“The people that bought them put them in their music rooms,” he says, “so they must enjoy the sound.”

Things are sounding good for Bestwick. He now works on his art full time, a pursuit that he credits the co-op with helping to make possible.

“There is no way I would have imagined I'd be a self-supporting artist,” he says. “I think that the exposure of being with other artists has been one of the most important parts of this transition I've been making.”

For more information about Bestwick, contact Saxonburg Area Artists Co-op at 412-260-5779 or The gallery is at 215 Main St., Saxonburg. Hours are 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.

Julie Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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