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By Megin Potter
The intersection of Ballard Road and Route 50 in Wilton is a rare place. Here, some drivers actually hope for a red light and a few extra moments to let their eyes linger among the sculptures spread out across the roadside lawn of miChelle Vara’s metalworking studio.
What you cannot see in those brief moments driving by is that the sculptures often can evoke fiery emotions as they address the big questions in life with abstraction.
“I translate thoughts and ideas into artwork,” said Vara, who considers it a triumph that she has been a professional artist for her entire life.
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Growing up on the shoreline of New Jersey, Vara found and collected bits of metal. Although the hobby at first irritated her mother’s organizational instincts, her entrepreneurial parents encouraged her artistic endeavors.
By age 9, Vara opened up a tourist booth called “Shore Thing” to sell her creations. Beginning with painted signs and scenic images on seashells, by the time she completed school she’d learned how to weld.
Vara’s been at the Ballard Road Art Studio for 28 years, and sooner or later, people find her, she said. Teaming up with Chad Wilson, founder of C & C Specialty Iron, in 2000, she also fabricates and welds handrails, gates and other metal structures for clients.
Five years ago Vara left the area to finish her Master’s Degree in the Fine and Studio Arts at England’s University of Plymouth.
“I love information, to find things out and to look at things, do architectural research and to have time to argue my ideas, create art and to exchange information,” said Vara.
Waking up at 4 a.m. and working until 11 p.m. daily, Vara approaches her work from many different angles. She practices airbrush, painting, drawing, photography and jewelry making in addition to the recycled abstract expressionist metal sculptures for which she is perhaps most well-known.
After the Wilton Fire Department received an I-beam from the Twin Towers World Trade Center catastrophe in 2011, Vara used it to create the sculpture “Respectful Remembrances” exhibited in their station’s front entrance.
Other examples of her work include the 2009 sculpture, “Henry Hudson and the Half Moon” in honor of the Hudson River’s founder, and the commissioned 2007 Revolutionary War commemorative sculpture “General Knox and the Train of Artillery”.
“My work connects people, opens conversations and moves people in their own way,” said Vara.
Her latest series of canvases have been painted with tar as a comment on Canada’s tar sands excavation (America’s biggest source of imported oil and dubbed one of the most environmentally destructive industrial projects in human history).
Vara also just finished a seven-year project called “Fortitude”. The sculpture addresses chronic illness and the amazing truth of what the human body can recover from.
The Ballard Road Art Studio is open by appointment only. For more information go to https://www.michellevara.com or call 518-587-8706.