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The real steel: Evergreen artist shows his metal

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By Stephen Knapp

No yard is so beautiful that it can’t be improved by a visit from some of the mountain area’s wilder residents. On the other hand, real elk can be murder on flowerbeds, real bear come with real teeth and real claws, and real wildlife of any kind can’t be relied upon to drop by when the in-laws are in town.

Happily, longtime Evergreen artist Mike Bilsing can fill your personal alpine realm with a docile host of well-mannered mountain critters that won’t plunder your petunias, distress your dog, or take a powder the day before your annual midsummer barbecue. He calls his business MetalArt, and it’s truth in advertising on both counts.

Whether they know it or not, most folks living hereabouts are quite familiar with Bilsing’s work. The perfectly defined bull elk bugling among the pines in Hiwan; the mother bear and cubs walking atop the mailbox in Evergreen Meadows; the fancifully scrolled and forested sign welcoming visitors in Buffalo Park. At MetalArt, Bilsing works in 14-gauge cold-rolled steel, and while many of his most visible works are done in two dimensions, his imagination and skill have done wonders for the humble silhouette.

“I do a lot of custom work, usually from pictures,” says Bilsing, a friendly, soft-spoken man. “I had a lady come in whose German shepherd had passed away, and she gave me a photograph of the dog. It’s standing in her front yard right now.”

Then there’s the Aurora fox-hunting club that commissioned Bilsing to decorate its wrought-iron gate.

“I went to the fox hunt and took pictures,” he laughs. “The scene on the gate is from the actual hunt in progress.”

And the pageant isn’t restricted to local entrants. Bilsing has incised locomotives, old-timey bicycles and uniquely beautiful wine racks.

“I’ve always got a thousand new ideas in my head.”

Fact is, cutting steel with a high-voltage plasma torch is a relatively new vocation for Bilsing, who came to Evergreen in 1982 and graduated as a graphic artist from the Colorado Institute of Art two years later. Not long after, he launched what one might call MetalArts’ parent company, Evergreen Graphics, which still produces everything from commercial logos to race-car graphics to wall murals.

“A lot of people around here know me for doing custom graphics on snow skis,” he says. “I started that in 1986, and I air-brushed a lot of skis. And I won the Fourth of July T-shirt design contest a couple years in a row.”

In 1989, Bilsing found and purchased his dream house — the understated Victorian on Douglas Park Road just behind Saigon Landing. One of Evergreen’s earliest addresses, the 82-year-old clapboard pile is now Bilsing’s home, office and showroom.

“I just love living downtown,” he says, smiling broadly. “I have a canoe that I take out on the lake a lot, and I fish in Bear Creek almost every evening. I’ve got everything I need right here.”

Out front, a variety of woodland creatures, frozen in motion, march across the home’s tidy green lawn through beds of copper flowers. A six-point elk standing by the front door wears the property’s street address with obvious pride.

“For an address sign, a welcome sign, or anything else that needs lettering, I can either cut out the words and numbers, or use vinyl lettering in a variety of styles,” he says.

Inside, the stately pioneer manse teems with examples of Bilsing’s more practical creations — Western-themed business card holders, wonderfully botanical file organizers, bird-centric birdfeeders, and trout-shaped wall hangings that, thanks to their treated copper finishes, sport an authentic rainbow of swirling colors.

“I’m getting a lot of requests for functional art these days. A lot of people want things with hooks or tabs that you can hang things on.”

What you won’t see at Bilsing’s home headquarters are metal shavings and power tools. For that, you’d need to visit his workshop on the Tip Top Ranch near Conifer.

“It’s one of the few ranches around here that has a landing strip. I do some maintenance on the property, and they let me use the old airplane hangar for my workshop. I’ve got a couple of great Conifer High School twins, Jeff and Casey, who help me out in the shop. They’re great kids. Other than that, I’m a one-man operation.”

Given Bilsing’s obvious artistic talent, one could wonder why he chooses to work with steel and fire instead of canvas and oil.

“I just love to work with my hands,” he says, “and these will still be around long after we’re all gone.”

To learn more about Evergreen Graphics and MetalArt, call 303-674-2583, or e-mail evergreengraphix@aol.com.