Coming Together Building the Thundercone / by Kate Tupper

In my second year leading the Farm Decor team, working 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.