An Okotoks-area metal artist is putting the precarious nature of our food supply on full display.
Two years ago, Michael Perks began turning a 1971 antique swather into a sculpture using his signature medium of precision-cut ornate metals, dubbing it The Fragility of Farming.
“What the piece started out as was my way to deal with the world in lockdown,” Perks said in an interview with the Wheel at opening day of the Calgary Stampede.
“When I started, it wasn’t something that people were talking about, and now all of a sudden people are slowly starting to learn this is where their food comes from.
“So it actually became relevant as the two years went on.”
The swather is currently a centerpiece at the 2022 Calgary Stampede’s Western Art Show, located in the Western Oasis, and came from the Patterson family, belonging to the uncle of his wife Claire.
Cut into and grafted onto the large farm machine are scenes and objects endemic to the agricultural world.
“The whole concept was tear away enough of the metal with that of wheat, canola seeds, and gophers cut into it, so you can see through it, but you still have the concept of what a machine is,” said Perks, who works out of his studio, Little Monkey Metalworks, just west of Okotoks.
“The idea of interactiveness is for people to get up into it and actually see what a farmer is.”
With strong roots in the agricultural and rural life of the Foothills, Perks wants people to understand the complex and interdependent world of farming and those who feed the world.
“There’s all these tools that people don’t know are used to make our food, and we’re quite happy to go into the grocery store to buy a zucchini,” Perks said. “We don’t quite understand that zucchini might come from Chile or California, or the dollars and cents of it.
“The best statement I’ve ever heard is, ‘Farming is the only business where you pay full retail for all of your goods to grow the crop, then you have to sell it at wholesale.’”
The initial awe factor has been drawing crowds to the machine, Perks said, followed by inquisitive examination.
“People don’t really know what the swather is, to be that close to something that big, it gives them that little sense of awe,” he said.
“They see the machine first, then they see the shiny factor, and then for fun they try and find the gophers inside the machine instead of an engine.
“Then at the end of it they walk away and they’ve learned, ‘This is how my food was cut and harvested.’”
Over the course of the five-minute interview, numerous patrons stopped to examine the piece, taking selfies or peering into depths of the machine.
The whole point is to create the conversation.
“This was an actual working thing, and now it’s art,” Perks said. "But at least let's talk about the topic of where our food comes from.”
For more information about the Calgary Stampede’s Western Oasis, visit calgarystampede.com/stampede/attractions/western-oasis.
For more information about Michael Perks and his studio, Little Monkey Metalworks, visit littlemonkeymetal.com.