Forging the soul of horses and perseverance
Tim Hiller and his son Seth Hiller stand next to Tim’s sculpture ‘Driving Force of the Prairie Wind’ at the Bill Fowler Centre in Camrose on July 16. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
People are dealing with the recession in different ways.
Tim Hiller fired up his forge and grabbed his welder and started creating works of art. The art the Hay Lakes cowboy is creating, however, is unlike just about anything else out there. Hiller is taking old horse shoes and pounding them into life-size versions of horses.
One of his most prolific works is a full-size front half of a Percheron and has spent the last few weeks at the Bill Fowler Centre in Camrose as part of the Art Walk display.
With the downturn in the economy, welding jobs started to dry up for Hiller and with the encouragement of friends and family he poured his thoughts and energy into the creative outlet.
“Once you get involved in a piece, that’s all you think about,” said Hiller. “You can blank everything else out, you’re trying to get as much feeling and everything into that piece as you can so that when anybody else looks at it, it shows some life, so that it’s not just horseshoes tacked together.”
The sculptures are more than just static creations. Each has their own character and soul and often take on the essence of a horse from his past.
One of his most meaningful statues hangs in his living room. It was of a horse named Twiggy he owned for eight years but had died 13 years previously. Hiller took it out to show the original owner, who knew immediately who the horse was.
“It’s just the way it ended up, as I made the ears and I put everything in place, it’s just something that came out in that piece,” said an emotional Hiller, who team ropes on the rodeo circuit. “He was one of the best rope horses I had and I was learning at the time all about team roping.”
Adding to the magic of Hiller’s creations is the fact they are transparent. In the case of Twiggy, with its place on the wall and the natural light pouring in from near-by windows, the shadow it casts make it come alive, dancing throughout the room, as the sun moves around the house.
Hiller is a third generation blacksmith, learning much of what he knows from his father and his grandfather from his mother’s side. His father’s dad was also a blacksmith, but died when Tim was young, though most of the tools he uses today were passed down to him by Grandpa Hiller and his uncle. It is a trade he is passing on down to his sons Seth, 12, and Jesse, 17.
Welding came to him naturally and he has run his own portable welding company for 30 years. With the economy tanking, he started to channel his artistic side three years ago and now spends 300 or more hours on a single work of art.
Just about every piece of his sculptures are made from old horseshoes he has sourced from three East Central Alberta ferriers. He flattens or straightens out almost every single horseshoe before sculpting it to the contour of an imagined muscle or bone. There are some shoes he can warp to fit a certain section, but most get the full treatment as he molds a mane blowing in the wind or a raised hoof.
He says most people do not even realize at first that they are horseshoes.
“There’s lots of guys using scrap stuff and it’s very interesting, it gives it a different look, but the horseshoe is definitely related,” said Hiller. “It’s hard to take a gear off of a scrap off the floor and make it into a horse, it’s not related in one way or the other.”
Often clients will ask him to use shoes from a specific horse of theirs as he recreates it.
He does more than just giant works, tackling everything from delicate roses to other small wall-mounted motifs that take about a week to create. Hiller works mostly on contract as he attempts to bring a client’s imagination to life. His first piece was designed for a gate for a friend and word of his efforts have spread since. He is now focussing on a couple of pieces for a show at Spruce Meadows.
His biggest challenge is parting with his art, and his girlfriend Dianne is all too encouraging to when it comes to holding on to his iron herd.
“They’re hard to let go,” said Hiller. “I don’t know how many artists sell original paintings, but with prints and everything else you can always have one there. In this case you can only make one of a kind, nobody can make one like it because every horseshoe I pick up off the pile is different than the one before it. I can’t even duplicate it.
“When you do sell them and let them go, you never see it again, and that’s part of you that you have to let go. I didn’t realize there’d be that much feeling.”