Towering over a chainlink fence with snow-covered mountains rising from behind, an imposing 15-foot metal figure named COVID has been erected in a quiet neighbourhood in Hope.
“He turned out to be a little bit bigger than I thought. A little uglier and mean-looking. So when this virus started, I said, ‘why don’t I just name him COVID?’” said Ray Slanzi, the man behind the work.
Yet the inspiration behind the impressive peice of folk art in a yard along Elder Road stretches back long before the pandemic Slanzi explained. It’s a project Slanzi, a former heavy duty mechanic, has wanted to complete for the last 20 years.
Only this past winter did he have the time to dedicate to it and the materials to make it a reality. Taking advantage of the bad weather, Slanzi got to work.
Building COVID took about three months – Slanzi spent about five to six hours a day working under a roof in his back yard. He began by making a skeleton from old mining pipes, starting with the legs.
“I made the legs just a little bit taller than I should have. In order to keep it proportional, I ended up making the torso much bigger than I expected. Next thing you know, now it’s 15 feet,” he said.
Following in the folk art tradition, COVID is constructed using a range of repurposed materials either welded together or bolted on. What is added is up to the imagination of the artist.
“You start adding whatever comes to your mind and your imagination and that’s one thing I do have is imagination,” Slanzi said.
The figure’s head is the fanhood of a kitchen stove Slanzi hung onto when it was replaced, his belt buckle is an umbrella stand he and his wife Karen have had around for 20 years. Some of COVID’s parts had to be painted, others retain their original colour.
“There’s all kinds of parts – there’s compressor parts, boat parts. There is even my wife’s pasta maker on it,”Slanzi explained. “He’s got a bit of a beard made out of chainlink fencing and there’s kind of a stainless steel chain for a necklace. And right underneath it you see a chrome thing, that’s my wife’s (hand crank) pasta maker.”
The figure’s fishnet-looking “armour” is made with a neighbour’s old fencing material fastened onto COVID’s frame with chrome rings from a wine barrel.
COVID is armed with a replica Winchester that took Slanzi almost a month to build. It helps the statue to stand up, as do the channel iron feet welded to the skeleton. COVID’s legs are balanced for maximum stability and there are bars bolted down to concrete achors an inch below ground. “So he’ll be a permanent fixture there for a long time,” Slanzi said.
One thing viewers from the road won’t see, is a secret compartment inside the chest of this repurposed metal warrior.
Inspired by his grandchildren, who range in age from three to 25, Slanzi put a door on the figure’s back just above the belt. The space inside can hold two children five feet tall. “They can actually crawl in there and sit inside and they can scare people when they go by,” Slanzi said.
Ray and Karen are isolating and have been for weeks, but once the virus subsides they’ll welcome the grandkids inside.
Slanzi insists he’s not an artist. Yet like many creators who finally finish their pieces after months and years of painstaking work, Slanzi said he is mighty glad to be done.
“I said to my wife ‘If I ever start something like that again, just hit me over the head with a frying pan’ because that was just a little bit much,” he said.
Slanzi is happy for people to come view Hope’s newest peice of folk art, but he prefers they admire COVID from the road outside the fence.