Roland Derks puts the finishing touches to a piece of metal art at his Lake Country studio.

Roland Derks puts the finishing touches to a piece of metal art at his Lake Country studio.

Crafting metal into art

Artisan Roland Derks turns metal and other materials into gallery-worthy art at his Lake Country studio, Middlebench Metalworks.

Linda Derks still has the first flowers her husband ever gave her. Roland Derks, a welder, was working in a camp and looking for something to do in his spare time so he tried making some metal flowers.

Then the couple got busy with family, Roland working in the oil and gas industry and Linda owning home decor stores in Calgary. When they moved to Lake Country four years ago, they were ready for a change. They brought together Linda’s love of meeting people and sales and Roland’s plans to use his welding experience for art.

The result is Middlebench Metalworks, an art studio filled with handcrafted metal art for indoors and outdoors. The work is sold at Vernon and Kelowna farmers’ markets and selected art and craft shows.

Roland starts with plain steel sheet metal, metal rods and sometimes a piece of wood or rock, and is inspired from there.

“Every piece is different. I cut the metal, shape it, hammer it, treat it with heat. And it will rust and change over the years. I’m always getting more ideas. Now, I’m interested in kinetic art — people particularly like pieces that move for the garden,” he said.

Linda also comes up with ideas.

“People like our work with a wine theme. We also like doing designs based on the local wild life and plants. The quail and chicks are one of our best sellers. We might be doing more with the fruit of the Okanagan,” she said.

Their yard is a showplace for their work  — metal trellis, sundials, an eagle overhead, flowers blooming through a late snowfall. Inside pieces include bookends, wine racks and wall art. A personal favourite, a family of owls, keeps watch in the living room. There are plans to do more larger pieces, including animals like bear and deer, and gates and fences. Fish are a common theme in pieces of all sizes.

“This kind of art has given me a finer appreciation for nature and nature photography. Living here, we feel more in tune with nature and we have slowed down,” said Roland.

“We like to hear how people are using the pieces in their homes and gardens and it’s great see them out in yards when we are driving around. Some pieces are in the Lake Country Art Gallery and we know a lot of them go out of the province. There’s a piece at a hotel in Northern Manitoba.”

Middlebench Metal Works will be at its first Shoparama Spring Market this year with the new tomato trellis, the popular sunflowers and pansies, tulips and tiger lilies, as well as the animal, wine and other theme pieces.

The Shoparama Spring Market has crafters, artists, entrepreneurs, home-based businesses, baking, entertainment, things for kids, door prizes and a concession. The market takes place March 31 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and April 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Vernon Recreation Centre (3310-37th Ave., Vernon). Admission is free but people are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for the food bank.