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Auburn sculptor carving legacy in stone

Miles Metzger looks to nature as his inspiration
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Sculptor Miles Metzger has created many pieces over the years, but one in particular is viewed, touched and photographed many times a day. His “Guardians of the Gate” has a prominent spot at Pier 39 in San Francisco. The bronze artwork is one of his favorites. “I’ve been told by many people it is (one of the) most photographed pieces of sculpture in the United States,” he said. “It’s so populated in that particular spot. Everybody sees that piece. It’s one of those places where you can sit on the sculpture and get your picture taken.” When the owners of Pier 39 commissioned the statue, Metzger said he knew he wanted it to be a family of sea lions. He created a nuzzling male and female with a pup beside them. “(My) sculptures mean to inspire, encourage and appreciate humanity and the natural world,” he said. “The family (of sea lions) seemed such a beautiful, emotional moment.” Metzger grew up in Northern California and until recently had a studio in Mokelumne Hill. In late 2011, he moved to Auburn and now works out of his home overlooking the American River Canyon that he shares with companion Alexa Welsh, a longtime Auburn resident. He’s loved art and excelled in it from an early age, he said. He studied at the University of Denver and the Instituto Allende in Mexico; then spent a couple of years at Star Hill Academy commune in Woodside where he began making violins. “The academy had tours to come in and look at alternative lifestyles,” he said. “I’d be doing sculpting or working on a violin. I was also a gardener and did some organic gardening.” But it wasn’t until he moved to Calaveras County and discovered an abundance of soapstone that he really began to focus solely on sculpture. He and his brother, Randy, initially became soapstone suppliers for other artists. “I created five pieces to use as samples of what you could do out of the stone,” Metzger said. “They were so well received. I realized I could do better as the sculptor rather than the supplier.” The soapstone worked very well for the soft-shaped animals he created such as bears and eels. “I did that for about 15 years,” he said. “During that time I had more than 15 apprentices who worked for me and had two different railroad station studios and employed more than 30 people.” In the early 1980s, he moved on to bronze, in 1990 creating the Pier 39 sculpture. During the same period, he made his first set of life-size deer, a commission from a company in Palo Alto. For a while, he had a studio in St. Helena. These days he’s back to working in soapstone as well as bronze. His work ranges from small pieces to the large commissions. One of his recent creations is a 5-foot-tall frog for the new Phoenix Children’s Hospital, he said. He gets multiple requests for hearts he carves out of soapstone. He said he makes several of those each year. “They are the size of an adult hand,” he said. “They show the beauty of the soapstone. If you heat them — or even at room temperature— you can use them as a massage stones.” Among his favorite pieces is a wolf he named Moonsong. “I’ve done different sizes of that and I’m going to produce it in concrete,” he said. Local Realtors Wes and Michelle Burris discovered Metzger’s work while on a trip to the Napa Valley. “We went in and talked to him, then went back another time,” Wes Burris said. “We liked his work and ended up getting some of it — a couple of deer bronzes. … His style is very lifelike, but yet they’re not. We have a mother deer and a fawn. They are artistic looking so they don’t look exactly like deer but very striking and very lifelike (from a distance). People stop on our property and think they are real. Our dog actually goes out and barks at them and thinks they are real deer.” Metzger is now moving into a more contemporary style and has created 30 designs. “I would like to gain greater recognition in the contemporary art world, which is passing me by a little because I’ve stayed with animals and figures and haven’t gone into the way-out abstract field,” he said. “I’ve designed some really neat stuff for it and I think I want to do some of that now.” He’s also planning to teach sculpture classes. “There’s a lot I can teach,” he said. “You can learn a whole career’s worth in three sessions.” He also wants to teach creative thinking. When he’s not working in his studio, Metzger enjoys the outdoors. “I love to hike the mountains and river canyons and love to fish for trout,” he said. He’s also a singer- songwriter and has written about 30 songs. He’s very pleased to be in Auburn. “The studio is so beautiful,” he said. “It is surrounded by forest and a beautiful view and beautiful gardens all around it. It’s an artist’s dream come true. I love Auburn. It’s just magical.” ------------ Miles Metzger For more information and to view his work, visit milesmetzgersculpture.com