In the centre of a traffic circle in Lac La Biche, a swirling steel feather soars 30 feet into the sky.
The status may be the largest feather sculpture in Alberta, maybe even Canada. It’s definitely the centrepiece of an art project that has been in the works for almost a year and was unveiled on Thursday by the Lac La Biche Art Club.
Artist Melanie Braund spent 345 hours welding the large feather statue and the 16 smaller silhouettes that surround it.
“Honestly, I am pinching myself still because it’s just about timing. It’s about being blessed to be in the right place at the right time,” said Braund.
She started welding in high school and that quickly turned into a career of building pump jacks with her dad for 10 years.
The county of Lac La Biche was looking to commission an art piece to put in the traffic circle outside the Bold Centre.
Braund designed the piece with the help of a few members of the Art Club, pitched the design to council and then started hunting down materials.
Almost all of it was donated, including the 30-foot-long pipe that the feather is made of.
Braund said that was a huge relief. The project had a $50,000 budget and she hoped to get some payment for the time and effort she would be putting into the piece.
“If we didn’t have the donations, it would have been basically rocks and maybe one thing,” said Braund.
Braund started welding in October and unveiled the finished art piece on Thursday.
She chose the feather as a symbol because she wanted to represent the region’s numerous Indigenous populations.
“I really wanted to get the feather in there and really showcase the Indigenous culture, the nature that surrounds the area.”
Other designs on the silhouettes also represent the surrounding area, including the logo and initials of the nearby school, a hockey player, maple leaf and wheat blowing in the wind.
“I would focus on each one and figure out what was important to building the community.”
Initially, she was going to include a bench with the piece, but she decided that probably wouldn’t be a good idea given its location in the centre of a traffic circle.
Sandy Makokis, president of the Lac La Biche Art Club, designed the pelican on one of the pipes. She would occasionally help Braund chip off the slag, or excess metal after a piece is welded.
When she was originally approached by the county to do this piece, she was skeptical.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” said Makokis. The group had never taken on a project this big.
And in the end, the piece ended up twice the size that they had initially anticipated.
“I’m over the moon. Just amazed.”
Braund said she’d like to expand her art business to include metal work.