Sculptor Nina Winters' introduction to Kalispell Art Casting took place at Belvoir Castle in England.
"I was visiting a friend of mine who is the artist-in-residence to the duke and duchess of Rutlan," Winters said. "She used to live in Missoula and she used this foundry. She said they were wonderful."
Winters now agrees.
A resident of Tampa Bay, Fla., she traveled here recently to put the finishing touches on her first sculpture produced by Kalispell Art Casting. Her client was due in from Texas for final approval before the 1,300-pound bronze boarded a truck for the Dallas/Fort Worth area at week's end.
As she perched on a bench in the foundry with grinding wheels screeching in the next room, Winters seemed worlds away from Belvoir Castle and the jet-setting life of an internationally known artist with work in galleries in London, Dubai, Hawaii and Texas.
She said she enjoys the down-home environment of Kalispell. It reminds her of New Hampshire where she maintains a second home.
"It's country and I love it. People are less judgmental here," she said. "You can just walk in and be yourself."
Winters' new monumental sculpture reflects her signature style and the go-for-it artistic mantra represented by her lightning-bolt company logo. At 7 feet by 9 feet, the figure titled "The Galactic Samurai: Confrontation of Evil" strikes a ballet-like pose in flowing robes, ready to hurl a lightning bolt skyward.
Winters, who was schooled in art at Cornell University, the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design, describes her work as having a very strong abstract line
"I love abstract art but for me, it's important to actually say something specific so that people can get the message I want to give them," she said. "Although not realistic, they usually are figurative and the messages are positive."
Unlike many artists, Winters dose not focus on the problems of society. She said the public gets enough of that every day from all forms of media.
"Artists dream the dreams of the future - that's what I think," she said. "I think it's important to put a good future there. So I like to do things that are very positive and talk about what the human condition can be if we all get together and just decide to do it."
She traces her artistic genes to her father, who tap-danced and played the banjo and slide guitar and his sister, a major vaudeville star. Her grandmother was a noted dress designer in Vienna.
"They always encouraged me," she said. "It wasn't, ‘Don't do that, you have to become a lawyer.' It was ‘Oh you want to be an artist? Great!'"
Winters still has her first painting, a landscape with a lake, trees and a cabin that she created on a vacation in Maine with her first oil paint set. Since that first tentative step, her feet never wavered from the path as she grew up.
"It's been art forever," she said.
About 12 years ago, she moved from painting into three-dimensional art after a cathartic dream. Winters recalled her dream vision of a huge sculpture in space the size of an entire galaxy.
"I mean big and it was beautiful and it was important," Winter said. "After that, I just started sculpting. That was a sign. That's what I'm supposed to do."
Her samurai was designed as an award piece for a major celebrity who had worked hard after 9/11 on behalf of injured New York City firefighters. Her daughter, well-known singer Hana-Li, posed as her samurai as she worked on the original clay model.
Because the money never came together for the presentation, Winters produced a small-scale "maquette" bronze that was featured with her in a magazine in Tampa Bay.
"This collector who is coming here - he saw this photograph and so did his wife," Winters said. "She said, ‘I want that.' He said, ‘Well, your birthday is coming up.'"
His wife, a PepsiCo senior executive, envisioned a four-foot high bronze while he wanted a samurai soaring up to 10 feet. In the end, Winters said they compromised with a 7-by-9-foot bronze to become the centerpiece of a new Japanese garden behind their palatial Dallas/Fort Worth home.
After negotiating a price with the client, Winters shipped her clay model to a Portland, Ore., firm to enlarge the proportions into a monumental model for casting in Kalispell.
By Friday, the piece was complete with subtle patinas including wine-colored robes.
Jack Muir, one of the founders of Kalispell Art Casting, said the artist and her client were pleased with their final product. He said the artist received an excellent price for shipping the piece to Texas.
Over the last few years, the foundry's business has become international. Another big job in process will end up in St. John's in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
"A lot of our business is Canadian," Muir said. "Right now we're working on a huge major piece for the Calgary Stampede. It's 15 life-plus-a-quarter-sized horses."
He pointed to the Internet as a huge help in working with sculptors many miles from Montana. Muir said that most of these new customers come to the foundry through word of mouth just as Winters did.
"The casting and sculpture community is fairly small," he said. "We've developed a client base over 30 years."
Although usually impervious to economic ups and downs, Kalispell Art Casting has experience some rough years recently with employment down to 15 from a peak of 45. Although the recession played a role, Muir said six long-term, productive customers died in the last two or three years.
"We're tickled pink to have Nina," he said. "It sounds like she is aggressively marketing her work."
According to Winters, the unveiling of "The Galactic Samurai:Confrontation of Evil" will be at a dinner-for-eight birthday celebration on Feb. 24. Many more people will get a look at her piece in the near future which gives her marketing efforts a big boost.
"He said within a year we'll be on the garden tour," she said. "We'll have over 500 people there."
Winters' website www.ninawinters.com displays the full range of her work from monumental bronze statutes installed around the world to her line of wearable sculptures created to help pay for her fondest artistic dream for the future.
"My goal for this lifetime is to have children's monumental peace parks in every country in the world," she said. "I'm starting off working with children doing their own peace parks - large papier-mache things that just have a coating on them. Then, as we progress, it will segue into mine."
She has produced one peace park piece, "The Child King of the Known and Unknown Universes," and is working on another with a French title that translates to "The Little Queen of the Stars." Winters envisions them as the entry guardians.
"This whole thing is so real to me," she said. "I've walked up the steps, I know where the sculptures will be - I just need to get the money to do it."
As she obtains the money, part of it will come to Kalispell Art Casting as Winter's new foundry. She agreed with Muir's assessment that their first project went well and their relationship will continue.
"It's very new. I phone here all the time," Winters said. "The people who work here are the best, the friendliest and the most fun of any foundry I've ever worked with. I just love them all."
People interested in more information may contact Winters at email@example.com.
Artist Nina Winters applies the patina to her sculpture, The Galactic Samurai, at Kalispell Art Casting.