For the week of June 17 thru June 23, 1998  

Flame and Sparks

Michael Zapponi’s creations in bronze

By Marilyn Bauer
Express Staff Writer

When the curator of the Microsoft corporate art collection called last Thursday, it was unclear whether he was interested in kinetic sculpture, a fused glass installation or a large metal bear.

Be that as it may, Bellevue sculptor Michael Zapponi was an artist the curator was considering for the coveted collection.

Zapponi, a 20-year resident of the Wood River Valley, started out in California as a ceramist, then quickly moved on to works in glass and finally metal sculpture.

"The unifying thread is fire," Zapponi said. "I like flame and sparks. It’s the Aries in me."

Zapponi carefully controls the fire to create large animal sculptures favored by collectors from all over the country.

There’s a large bear standing in front of Ketchum’s Evergreen Restaurant and a kinetic sculpture of colorful fish in front of the Bellevue Bistro. Kinetic sculpture is composed of connected pieces that may be moved by weather or gravity.

The artist has just won a highly competitive bid for an outdoor installation at Southern Oregon University and is currently at work on a large bronze casting which will take a prominent place in the sculpture garden of the Los Angeles YMCA.

"It’s the first time I’ve done something like this," he said referring to the figurative composition of the sculpture. "This bronze casting will be in excess of 10 feet and portray a gymnast on a balance beam."

"The unifying thread is fire"

Zapponi first came to the area by way of San Jose State University and Mackay, Idaho. His highly abstract ceramics soon gave way to Idaho influences and he began to cast the first of his animals.

"Cute or ferocious, either way, they are anthropomorphically correct," he said. "A lot of my animals are indifferent to human intervention."

But for even the most casual observer, it is difficult to remain indifferent to these big pieces.

The happiness of the animals, that appear to be alone in the wilderness unconcerned with the fact they are being observed, is irresistible and inviting.

"I had my "walking bear" at the airport for awhile and it was covered with children’s footprints," said a smiling Zapponi. "Every kid that came through wanted his picture taken on the bear.

"I like the challenge of working in metal but also its durability. Metal can go outside and tolerate snow and children."

Zapponi, who is quite savvy when it comes to the business of art, has donated a small bronze piece to the Sun valley Wine Auction. The sculpture has a wine bottle turned on its side with a bear cub pawing the cork while trying to see inside the bottle.

"The thought process is it’s good exposure for me and a way of giving something back to the Sun Valley Center that has supported the arts in the community," Zapponi said.

"We approached the winery. We ended up using Schaffer Vineyards because he came here to see my work."

Zapponi has come back to his love of color seen most dramatically in the glass-fused works. He’s begun to paint the metal, enhancing its enigmatic fusion of mass and weightlessness.

Seven six-foot fish, their faceted surfaces embellished with paint, have been installed along the seven-foot wall of a swimming pool.

"I obviously spend a lot of time with a fishing pole in my hand," said Zapponi of the many fish sculptures he has done. "I’ve been commissioned not only in the West but as far away as Greenwich, Conn. to do them."

The yard surrounding the home he shares with art manager Karen Vance is a tribute to his art. Works there include a sockeye salmon forged from Foster Ale cans, ironic in that it is aluminum that threatens the existence of the species; "Free-wheeling Willy," a dolphin body on wheels; a bright orange bottom feeder, and an antique airplane mounted on a pole.

The interior reflects the interior man. A large piano dwarfs the living-dining area; the place where the self-taught musician may play Bach or Beethoven from memory. The chairs to the dining room table he created stand in response to the admonishment "Don’t lean back in your chair, you’ll break it."

"These won’t break they’re made from metal," Zapponi laughed.

The kitchen counter is covered with freshly picked morel mushrooms waiting for Zapponi, who is also a cook.

It’s a happy house, with happy people, and great big happy fish.


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