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Sculptor captures Montana moment

By John Stang
Kalispell, Montana (AP) 12-07

It’s a story about every Flathead hiker’s deepest fear.

Walking along a backwoods trail. Turning a corner.

Running smack into a momma grizzly and her two cubs.

Momma rears up on her hind legs. Her mothering instincts kick into murderous overdrive.

A carefree hike morphs into a run for your life.

That story will be frozen in time on the southeast corner of the Kalispell’s intersection of Idaho and Main streets as a statue of the towering grizzly and her two cubs called “Something’s Coming.”

“What happens next depends on the person,” Kalispell sculptor Daniel Parker said of the story to be told by the statue.

“Something’s Coming” will be one of four mostly federally funded statues earmarked for that intersection – the crossroads of U.S. 93 and U.S. 2, which stretch length-wise and width-wise across the United States.

Parker’s sculpture will be the second one to be erected there, likely in late 2008. A pair of running deer – sculpted by Flathead artist Sherry Sander – will likely be the first.

The City of Kalispell and the Hockaday Museum of Art are in preliminary talks with the final two artists.

Parker, 48, tries to tell stories with his statues.

He attempts to catch single moments where a story hits an adrenaline spike.

The moment of discovery. The moment of fear. The moment of joy. The moment before action.

“The rest of the story is for the viewer to fill in,” he said.

Most of those moments are among wildlife.

That’s because Parker grew up in the Flathead, loves to hunt and hike, and knows and loves wild critters.

“Had I grown up in Texas, I’d probably be doing cowboys,” he said.

A Play-Doh fiend in grade school and an art geek at Flathead High School, Parker began a decades-long relationship with longtime Flathead sculptor Frank DeVita. A construction worker after graduation, Parker dabbled with sculpture on evenings and weekends, even after he married his wife Jeanne and raised three now-grown kids.

In 1990, he had enough statues to take them to an art show – and was surprised that most sold. He quit construction in 1991 to focus full-time on sculpting.

His style evolved through the years as he picked up numerous awards.

Parker belongs to the school of thought where the focal points of a piece – eyes meeting eyes, a face registering emotion, antagonist tensely glaring at antagonist – are accurately portrayed, but the rest of the piece does not have an obsession with tiny details.

Think of a photograph or film where the subject is in sharp focus, but the rest is slightly blurred, drawing the viewers’ eyes to one point.

Sharp focal points surrounded by less detailed elements are part of the differences between an anatomically precise exercise in sculpture and a work of “art.”

“It’s not the academic sculpture, but the idea. It’s not how to sculpt, but what to sculpt. ... What makes a sculpture of a bear or a horse (into) art? That’s the difficult thing,” Parker said.

Parker’s studio has constantly grown and relocated – starting in his kitchen and growing to fill a 5,000-square-foot building just east of Kalispell.

He currently employs five people, but he’s had up to 13 workers in his studio.

Parker and his people juggle several projects at a time, creating new statues and reproducing old ones.

Rubbery molds take up lots of space. So do torches, tables and raw material.

Tabletop and coffee-table-sized statues are clustered here and there.

Wolverines chasing a squirrel to the end of a tree branch. Bears fishing. Elk locking horns. Seals frolicking beneath the water – maybe or maybe not aware of a predator above the surface. Elephants playing. Numerous other critters. An occasional human, usually on a horse, usually a cowboy or American Indian.

The bears in “Something’s Coming” will probably be 11/2 times the size of real bears – a magnified, heroic view for drivers at Kalispell’s main intersection.

“Something’s Coming” at the intersection “is an opportunity that comes one or two times in a lifetime,” Parker said. “(Kalispell) is one of the gateway cities to a series of national parks here and in Canada.”