A gritty western town gives birth to beautiful art

In sparsely-populated eastern Oregon, the town of Joseph, pop. 1,054, is the end of the line. To get there from the I-84, drive 100 kilometres along the Wallowa River, past occasional cattle and sheep, across Hurricane Creek, through ranchland and some dramatic hills to the end of Route 82. To leave, turn around and drive 100 km back out.

As a town, Joseph is one long central avenue with several sidestreets reaching out a block or two from the main spine. Being a western town, it has plenty of pickup trucks. Unlike most western towns, it has at least 10 bronze sculptures lining that main street, and a majestic mountain backdrop that looks like someone cloned a few Alps.

Tarping the General before his cross-country journey.

Tarping the General before his cross-country journey.

For a generation or more, Joseph’s economy mirrored the decline of the logging industry. Today major employers are government, schools and hospitals, though the town works to entrench a role as an artistic retreat. It’s a tough go, but the 25 employees at Valley Bronze, an arts-centric foundry established in the early ’80s, are evidence that it can happen.

The artisans at Valley Bronze have cast beautiful brass frames, lampposts and sculptures that grace Washington DC streets, an NFL stadium and many private collections. And since Edmonton-based Danek Mozdzenski chose Valley Bronze to execute his bronze sculpture of Sir Isaac Brock, the facility and town have an intrinsic link with Brock University.

Last Sunday afternoon, 40 townspeople turned out at the Valley Bronze foundry for a wine-and-cheese send-off for General Brock. The next day, foundry workers happily joined artist Mozdzenski in donning “Bring Back the General” t-shirts, posing for photos in front of The General before wrapping him for protection during his trip to the BrockU campus. Then today he was loaded onto a flatbed truck, tarped up and strapped tightly down for the 4,000 km odyssey to Niagara.

It was an emotional day for Mozdzenski who, who unlike most artists, spent two months rather than a few days or hours overseeing the execution of his work at Valley Bronze.  But he knows The General is going to a good home.

The General has 10 states to get through this week. Read updates here in coming days.

Artist Mozdzenski, second from left, watches his work of art being loaded on the truck.

Artist Mozdzenski, second from left, watches his work of art being loaded on the truck.

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