Coming Together Building the Thundercone by Kate Tupper

In my second year leading the Farm Dec team, working as Art Director for the site of Shambhala Music Festival, there was a request for a special project full of romance - a place of connection - a wedding chapel of zero denomination. I decided the structure should suit the landscape. The vibe would be woodsy. The viewers who occupy this place once a year are their own sort of magical and so deserved something whimsically radiant.

 Thundercone top detail picture courtesy of the Emjay

Thundercone top detail picture courtesy of the Emjay

The Thundercone is a geometric, organic sculpture. Its silhouette wraps around like a veil or the arms of your loved ones. Inspired by the build site surroundings and communicated like nature through repetition of shape in steel organic elements, its details form a beautiful fairy-like structure with elements of pinecone topped with mutant flowers inspired by the downtown gardens. The main frame is constructed from 76 old steel school chairs left for years in the Shambhala warehouse yard. We cut, coped, and welded every single triangle in the main frame from chair legs. That was a crazy amount of work, math and eye-balling. The bolts from the chairs topped with weld became a tiny mushroom detail. You would never be able to execute this project with modern chairs, with their paper thin sides. The build materials survived the years and aged to a beautiful patina of rust and chipping soft metallic green paint which drove the colour story. I ordered automotive pigments to compliment a dusty rose and velvet green, cinnamon bronze, pearly white. The steel foliage detail climbing up evolved from the murkiness of the swamps that skirt the Salmo River. Details are constructed from 20 gauge mild sheet metal, plasma cut by our team, pounded concave with a ball pean on a two by four. As with my other sculptures, weld is used to highlight the systems, to provide movement and connection between the elements.

 One of the 76 old chairs we utilized to build the main structure of the Thundercone

One of the 76 old chairs we utilized to build the main structure of the Thundercone

The hardest part of being a lady welder is landing your first job and getting the work experience and hours to complete your apprenticeship. My first break came from a lady machinist who hired both me and my friend, Robin. After you have proved yourself, every company wants to hire you to fill their minority quota, it seems. It was a goal in the back of my mind that someday I would be in a place where I could offer the same type of support to my sisters. When I made the decision that the Shambhala wedding chapel would be built out of steel, I knew this was my opportunity to collect a team of lady welders. Through friends as well as the STEP Skilled Trades Employment Program in Nelson, I hustled a team of three ladies: Emma, Georgia and Emily, and at the last minute my friend Brad joined us as a token dude. It was a dedicated lovely crew.

 Welder Babes same pants party from left to right Georgia Lee, Emma Zener and me, Kate Tupper. Missing Emily Musa and Brad Zimmerman

Welder Babes same pants party from left to right Georgia Lee, Emma Zener and me, Kate Tupper. Missing Emily Musa and Brad Zimmerman

An electrical plug was installed for my welder and plasma cutter in the food court sitting area downtown Shambhala, and the dining room became our welding shop/studio. It was a harsh change from the privacy of my secret Nakusp space, building sculpture by myself, never revealing it until completion. Switch to having a bunch of pre-show worker visitors three times a day  (breakfast lunch supper) all checking out and following your progress/process. Inside I was freaking out and several times I crankily kicked people out of the work zone.  However, I eventually came around and got used to the audience, let go of control and remembered to trust that my instincts and skill set would carry the project through and that it would be beautiful. 

 Ride the Cone! We welded and twerked on the top

Ride the Cone! We welded and twerked on the top

The reality of life is, you can plan and scheme but nature has its own plans that stretch from before we arrived and farther past when we will be gone. I designed based on a build site. The tragedy of the giant cedar with four tops two coming down in a storm leaving two remaining creaking and cracking, caused the arborists to be called for safety and they dropped the two remaining tops directly where the thunder cone would be installed, smashing the beautiful hazelnut that had draped the site, that had inspired the silhouette of the design, annihilating many trees behind and just crushing the landscape. It seemed to be unfixable from my point of view, however my co-workers, Perry and Jeff proved me wrong by excelling at what they contribute to the site and healed the area as best they could with what they had. 

My friends Tyler and Lee arrived for the final Farm Dec shift before the show and built gorgeous rock work to elevate the chapel. While Shauna, Georgia , Miranda and I painted details and our hearts out. I Got up at five AM for several mornings and dried the dew off with a blow dryer so I could explore the path of painting before the rest of the team arrived. 

 Myself and my beautiful wife Anita reenact our wedding vows once the chapel is properly situated, with Jackie as our witness.

Myself and my beautiful wife Anita reenact our wedding vows once the chapel is properly situated, with Jackie as our witness.

In the building of a sculpture there are always many lessons. For me, sometimes the purpose of the work seems a bit unclear until BAM! it hits you. I had a moment of clarity the week after we finished metal fabrication of the Thundercone, right before we began to paint her. Sitting there in her naked steel birthday suit, the chapel called to us and my friend Anita asked me if I wanted to get married, be the first? I said yes and we vowed in front of the diners. Although mine were garbled, it struck me that the Thundercone was a place not only for lovers to commit their lives to each other, it could also be a place for friends to go through the act of saying vows. Why you love that person, why you are friends, why you want to spend the rest of your lives together.

I had always intended it to be a space of connection but I had not predicted the way the structure would call to friends and lovers to sit on the rock steps of the temple and gaze into each others' eyes, it became a place of complete bliss. And so I suggest next year if you are lucky enough to attend Shambhala Music Festival that you visit the chapel not only with your physical lovers, but also with the humans in your life that you cherish, no matter if you have known them for ten years or five minutes. I would love you to Come Together.


Re Generation by Kate Tupper

Way back in January I returned to my old high school, Nakusp Secondary, to work with students on an Art Starts Design Thinking project. This was a very cool challenge for me because over the last two years I've been paying close attention to my personal design/build process. I have been especially observant of a few key ingredients for success:

Input/output balance. First research and development then creation. Inspiration! you cannot pull from an empty, tired mind.

Accept that the project will hit all sorts of phases and for sure be super ugly for long periods of time.

Dream If you have a direction and a dream it is much easier to push past design and physical obstacles; to relax inside the entire process.

Remember it's all about process - the joy of building something new and the elation when dreams become reality.


Re generation is a student-designed and built mild steel sculpture that explores themes around nature's cycles, relating to the venue and humans we designed for: Nakusp Secondary School. We identified that schools work in a cycle; every year, new students arrive and some leave. It’s a story of maturation over again.

   Re generation   The birch sheds its leaves through the seasons, relating to the cycle of education. Every Spring students move on through graduation, every Fall new additions arrive

Re generation The birch sheds its leaves through the seasons, relating to the cycle of education. Every Spring students move on through graduation, every Fall new additions arrive

Six days is not a lot of time to design and build a sculpture. I'll usually think and sketch about something for a year or so and then take five hundred hours or more to construct it. Six days was a challenge, but we did it! This is a short version of our steps.

Becoming an Artist team  We worked together as a team to embody the many aspects of creating work for the public and sharing it in a modern accessible way. Each team member has their own strengths and wisdom to share, and as a team we appreciate everyone's gifts and input.

Design thinking As artists, we don't just create the physical work, we often create an entire story. What is the story of Nakusp Secondary School?

Immersion into the creative process Entertaining all ideas, in this phase of design anything is possible. Gravity can't stop us and no idea is too silly or unattainable for our team.

Building and Exploring Most steel comes in some type of two dimensional form. In order to take it to the third dimension, careful planning is necessary due to the expensive nature of the medium and the time it takes to convince it into a pleasing shape.

 Paper leaves designed by student ready to be transformed by technology 

Paper leaves designed by student ready to be transformed by technology 

Execution of physical sculpture The main frame of the sculpture is mild steel pipe of various sizes donated by Waterbridge Steel. First, with rolls of paper to test ideas and then the real thing, we manually cold bent the frame by utilizing and exploring the effects of different shop tools. The smaller branches were shaped from offcuts from my own studio and were shaped in the same way as the pipe. Following that, we welded on the steel leaves and birch bark we had cut out.

Parts of this sculpture (the leaves and birch bark detail) were designed in paper by the students, transferred to a digital file by me, and then custom profiled here in town. By utilizing industry technology we were able to cut down on shop time, the human element, and the skills needed to manually cut out multiple parts with precision ... the kind of cutting it takes years to master.

The leaves were painted with gold automotive pigments and paint that I use on my sculpture work and should pick up the light in all seasons, but especially could bring warmth to a barren Winter landscape.

The final resting place of this project is still under discussion, but will be installed somewhere, sometime. I'll keep you posted.


Looking Aft, we did it! by Kate Tupper

 Installing with Trent and the Waterbridge ferry crew was a fantastic way to spend a Friday. 

Installing with Trent and the Waterbridge ferry crew was a fantastic way to spend a Friday. 

Yesterday, almost exactly a year after the Art Party that saved it, Looking Aft was installed on the M.V. Columbia. Until the moment it was secured, buffed, shining in the sun I never truly believed that this concept could become reality. Too many road blocks along the way to re-hash it all, but I can say that from the day I was asked to design something for this ship to its installation, this project spanned three and a half years. 

  Looking Aft ; laser cut, hand woven, TIG welded 14' stainless steel sculpture. Installed on the house works of the M.V. Columbia.

Looking Aft; laser cut, hand woven, TIG welded 14' stainless steel sculpture. Installed on the house works of the M.V. Columbia.

Many times over those years I had to check in with myself and weigh the pros and cons of continuing the fight to bring public art to the ship I helped build. I had a key word tattooed on my arm 6 years ago. "Persevere" And in my heart I truly believed that this project was worth it. The agony over finding the perfect design, grant proposal writing, the fundraising, the weeks of hand sanding. All worth it.

Thank You

The crew at Waterbridge Steel, whom I had the privilege to work beside building the Columbia. You shared your skills and friendship over the months we laboured to build a ship. It's no small feat. Your strength and comraderie empowered me to be the best welder I could be. You inspired me to keep up, laugh it off, and eventually these experiences and memories led me to design something ... a gift back. Thank you for helping me recognize the beauty and strength in teamwork. You are a special group of individuals. Bonarc, my friends.

Maryse Langevin and  Callum Campbell  from the Ministry of Transportation for the concept that we could and should put public art on the Columbia.

Our Mayor, Karen Hamlin, for suggesting that the small grubby welder girl over there also builds sculpture and sowing this seed of a project into my life.

Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance, Columbia Basin Trust for your support of a major project grant and afterwards for the patience and flexibility when the project had to change or die.

Waterbridge Steel and John Harding for the adventure of a lifetime. Shipbuilding is a wild, exciting ride. 

Waterbridge Ferries, so welcoming of the arrival of Looking Aft and helpful in the physical work of installation. You guys rule. I feel I have left her in great hands.

My family, friends, community for your endless support.  All I talk about is projects, and you guys are so cool to just hop on board with one. When I asked if you could help me replace the funds needed to go ahead with this project? Can you help me build an Art Party? You all said yes! And we did. 

Looking Aft, your trials made me stronger and resulted in the invention of something we didn't even know we needed in our lives. Art Party. We made, and keep making Lemonaid. 

Bizarre Bazaar, $4000 raised for public art in Nakusp by Kate Tupper

Last April we were ecstatic and surprised to welcome around 160 people into the Old Fire Hall for a night of visual and performing arts. This time around, we thought it might be ambitious, but we planned on twice that number and surpassed it, with 393 artists, contributors and guests whose coming together made this November’s Art Party the raging success that it was. You came out, you shared your gifts, and wow, Nakusp, you weird up nice!

How is Art Party so amazing? We planned our event around eight values: Creativity, Innovation, Ever changing, Generosity, Inclusivity, Engagement, Playfulness and Eclectic. Not only has it been a crazy amount of volunteer work, but our success is also due to the professional and personal skills and connections of the organizers. We know what we are doing and we have a lot of great friends and acquaintances that share our values. Our focus isn't on how much money we make. If you read our goals, which are copied and pasted below, money is actually listed last.

Art Party Goals:

• Everyone have FUN

• Make Art Accessible and enjoyable for everyone

• Have people experience something new

• Attract more visitors and money to our area, and show off what Nakusp has to offer! Make them wish they lived here.

• Raise money for public art projects in the Nakusp Area

The experience of the event for the amazing community that comes out, real life moments of pure joy and playfulness, the connection of people with friends old and new: those are our actual goals.

However, we did reach our monetary goal of $1000 towards the painting by Michelle McLeod for the side of Bettyz Edge. $2000 for our local Legion #20 to be combined with the $1000 they put forward to commission and produce a mural for the side of their building. The rest goes to a nest egg for the next Art Party. This way we can bring you more party and keep our ticket prices low, ensuring that everyone can afford to attend, while upping the experience every time.

Economic spin-off was another focus, and we saw an opportunity to boost local revenue by attracting visitors and creating a bit of tourism in the off seasons. We would love your feedback. Did it work? Some businesses we would like to thank that jumped on board with donations or partnerships are Overwaitea Foods, Nakusp Esso, K2 Rotor Lodge, Bettyz Edge, Move on the Kusp, Cut Rite, Alisha Fritz, What’s Brewing, Making Memories, Prima Materia, Halcyon, Aidan McLaren-Caux, Spark Tart, Julia Burger, Linda Dixon, JoAnne Alaric for the ice, and The Cabin in Revelstoke.

Art Party is great because of its layers of artists, patrons, and contributors. It was especially magical due to the organization and dreams of some very key players: Jackie and Cory Phillipson, Christa Rebman, Kish Pedersen, Ali and Dustin Raskob, Autumn Grossutti, and Cassia Parent: you built Art Party. Big ups to Dylan Leeson and Bob Moody for making that site come alive! Jesse Booth and Matt Hawkins for your PA’s. What good is a party without Bass? Alex Marshall for his canvas and staple gun skills, Deb Rushfeldt, Charlotte Cunningham, Coty Lindgren, and Roland Honsek for your creative help and contributions to our show. Miranda Dahl and Colleen Matchett, the ‘Go Art Yourself’ dress-up booth’s bedazzling goddesses. Thanks to Ryan Noble for the costume donations, Jessica Grey our event photographer, Lee Orr for providing the photo booth, and Boukje Elzinga for visual artist support.

To our audience, your participation was tremendous. Thank you not only for coming out, thank you for your smiles, costumes and dance moves. What an incredible community we live in! Of course to all of the contributing artists, local and visiting, you are what made Bizarre Bazaar a feast for our senses. What would November have been without you?

And especially to those who came out early Sunday morning to pull down tents in the rain and sweep up the confetti and glitter detritus - all the messy evidence of the previous night's revelry. We heart you big time.

From Scratch by Kate Tupper

I have always wanted to make a stop motion movie. This was my third attempt. The first two were the worst kind of film; a promising beginning with a developed character and a nice plot line and then inevitably I would become engulfed in the process and slowly take less pictures... So they became these films where it all kinda falls apart in the middle and the ending makes no sense.