Awe-Inspiring Alloys

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Metalworkers Julie Setterholm and Nevada Silva showcase large-scale sculptures inspired by nature.

By Sharon Stello


Viewing unique sculptures around Laguna Beach—sometimes on special loan to City Hall or exhibited at Heisler Park—is not uncommon in this art-enthused town.

When imagining sculpted art pieces, what comes to mind? Is it magnificent statues of marble or stone—like Michelangelo’s David, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker and Alexandros of Antioch’s Venus de Milo? Or do you think of grotesque faces sculpted into Gothic architecture? Maybe metal alien sculptures from artists like H.R. Giger?

Modern carvings use all kinds of materials to create intricate 3D images that are brought to life rather than existing on a flat painted canvas. Two local Sawdust Art Festival exhibitors have re-imagined metal sculpting to incorporate Laguna’s surrounding nature in tangible works of art.


Welded Wonders

Now a metal sculptor who showcases her work at the Sawdust Art Festival, Julie Setterholm started by experimenting with found objects, turning them into art pieces at an early age. She attributes her creative style to being surrounded by artists from many different mediums in her childhood.

“Dion and Ruth Wright, who were friends of my father’s growing up, exposed me to so much—for instance, a huge metal spider on a web,” Setterholm says. “The spider was the size of a small child. That will stick with you.”

Julie Setterholm of Copperfeel Enameling_no credit
Julie Setterholm of Copperfeel Enameling

Setterholm was raised in Laguna Beach and one of her earliest artistic inspirations was her grandmother, Mary Alice Hamilton, who had a booth at the Sawdust festival the year Setterholm was born. “My grandmother had a craft room that had everything, from bead-making [and] woodworking to block printmaking tools, as well as an enameling kiln that would prove invaluable to my process later on,” she says. Another good friend and inspiration was Terry Thornsley, a Laguna Beach sculptor who shared his painting techniques with her before he passed away in 2015. “It was his nonjudgmental manner that inspired me. I love to reverse-engineer his process when I view his sculptures around town,” Setterholm adds.

Mainly using copper, bronze, stone, glass and steel, Setterholm creates pieces for her business, Copperfeel Enameling, that can handle the elements yet look delicate in nature. Most of her pieces are welded bronze and kiln-fired glass enamel over copper.

The Lovebug Collection by Julie Setterholm
A metal creation in The Lovebug Collection by Setterholm

“A piece usually starts with curiosity: ‘Can I get the glass enamel colors to mimic that cloud? Can I cut and hammer that copper into a shape that resembles a dragonfly wing?’ Sometimes repetitive tasks, like making 100 leaves for a tree, … [give] my mind space to come up with a new idea or series,” Setterholm explains.

The latest phone booth installation on Forest Avenue, “We Need to Talk,” is a collaborative piece between Setterholm and Candice Brokenshire. Stop by to take a peek inside or visit the project’s Instagram page @weneedtotalklb to learn more. Setterholm’s work will also be on display this summer at the annual Sawdust show.

Copperfeel Enameling


Journey to Metalworking

Working as a journeyman sheet metal specialist in his early 20s inspired Nevada Silva to start sculpting metal pieces. He now uses all different types of metals in his artwork, including steel, stainless steel, copper, bronze and aluminum.

“My most recent wave series … is a mixed media [collection] where I incorporate metal and wood together,” Silva notes. “I like the juxtaposition of the hard and soft organic elements together.”

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Nevada Silva with one of his sculptures

Silva draws most of the influence for his artwork from nature. As an avid sailor and surfer, he incorporates a lot of the shapes and colors of the ocean in his sculptures. His metal work has also been inspired by Albert Paley, whose designs are unlike anything he’s seen before. “I’ve had the pleasure to see his work in person at a gallery in Big Sur, and I’m always left amazed and inspired,” he adds.

Silva’s artistic process starts with drawing out his new design on paper, then translating the design by cutting through the metal by hand using plasma cutters and various other tools. “My favorite part of the design process is when I’m able to do all of my patina and dye work,” Silva explains. “It’s what makes each piece unique with its color and patterns, which … [are] formed by using the specialty formulated concoctions I put together.”

Silva met his wife when he moved to Laguna from central California 12 years ago, and her mother has long been an exhibiting artist in the Sawdust festival. Her family was instrumental in introducing Silva to the local art community, leading to him landing his own booth at the summertime art show.

“Metal is such a hard medium to work with, and welding and shaping … [are] lost skill[s] that not many people pursue … anymore,” Silva says. “The Sawdust gives me the opportunity to not only show my artwork, but also make other people’s visions come true with custom installations for their homes and businesses.”

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Another of his pieces installed above a bed

Silva currently has a public sculpture—a geometrical living wall—located outside of the Sawdust festival grounds. He also works on commissioned pieces for residents or offices, creating logos and signs out of metal. “Maybe one day, when my body is worn out from hitting and banging metal for so many years, I will find a more delicate medium,” Silva notes. “But, as for now, metal is what I love and choose to work with.”

This coming summer will mark Silva’s ninth year exhibiting at Sawdust Art Festival. Visit his booth starting in late June to experience his unique metal sculptures.

Nevada Silva Designs

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