The metal sculpture lays on its side next to the sculpture workshop on the southern campus of NAU. It's huge, perhaps 15 feet long, unfinished but still recognizable: It's a giant, vintage microphone.
Ryan Lamfers, an artist and instructor at the university, is working on it and hopes to have it done by the end of the semester so it can be installed as a public art piece outside the School of Art as a symbol to represent the fine arts.
"It's kind of about the ability to be heard; visual or performing artists, that's the way we speak to the public about the things that are important to us," he explained. "I used recycled materials, like light poles from NAU recycling and donations from Graves of two propane tanks like people have in their yards. One I chopped for the base, the other one is the typical bell of a microphone. I'm going to use expanded steel to get it that mesh microphone look. It's coming along, pieced together on a small budget."
A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE
The artist's enthusiasm, as shown with this current project, is one possible reason he was chosen by a panel of judges to receive the 2013 Viola Award in the Emerging Artist category, given at the gala Saturday, March 2, at the High Country Conference Center.
The Violas, named after Flagstaff patroness of the arts Viola Babbitt, are given out to the highest achieving artists, performers, scientists and writers, as well as important arts organizations. The event is hosted by Flagstaff Cultural Partners.
There were 66 nominees, six for each of 11 categories, including Emerging Artist.
Lamfers, 30, said this is his first major award, although he won Best of Show at the 2011 and 2012 "It's Elemental" shows at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
"I was completely surprised," he said. "It's just such a strong community of artists that I thought it was an honor just to be nominated. It was pretty humbling."
He noted involvement in the arts can be filled with lots of rejections and disappointments that come with applying for shows, residencies and commissions.
"Being nominated for a Viola comes as encouragement and a tremendous honor that others see and appreciate the work I am doing," he added.
Like many people, he had trouble remembering things when he was called to the stage.
"I had intentions of thanking numerous people at the Viola awards banquet, but when I got on stage I was nervous and blanked," he recalled. "I wanted to thank everyone from Coconino Center for the Arts, especially Robin and JT, for all their support. NAU School of Art for the opportunity to teach what I love. Brian Painter has been especially supportive and is always offering a helpful hand. Carolyn at West of the Moon for giving me the opportunity to show my work and introducing me to the Flagstaff arts community. My family for their continual support, and my girlfriend Victoria for always being encouraging and offering help when needed."
HE'S ENTERING HIS PRIME
The Viola nomination on the FCP website noted that Lamfers "works primarily in sculptural art, but he is also a profound painter, jeweler, photographer and drawer."
It calls Lamfers a young artist entering his prime as both a sculptor and an educator.
"The work he does enriches our community as a whole and is why he is most deserving of the Viola award in Emerging Artist," it concludes.
One thing he remembers fondly about the gala evening is being able to sit at the NAU School of Arts table and "share in the honor of being nominated for a Viola with other faculty I admire and look up to."
Lamfers grew up in Kansas City and most of his family is located in central Kansas.
"The landscape and community of this area has definitely had a lasting impression on my work," he said. "I have been lucky that my entire family has been supportive of my interests in the arts."
Lamfers said his typical day ends at 1 or 2 in the morning. "It's better to be too busy than not have anything at all to do," he said.
And busy he certainly is.
He just got back from a trip to Scottsdale, where he is collaborating on large-scale sculptures for lobbies in a condo complex. Last summer, he worked a river trip through the Grand Canyon, using a pinhole camera to expose images of the canyon.
"My goal is to do more of them and create a body of sculpture around the images captured," Lamfers said. "The history, landscape and the environmental issues of this area are tremendously inspiring for my work."
Lamfers said he will be attending the Southern Cast Iron Art Conference next month and teaching a workshop about sand molding for students.
"I have been attending the conference since I first started in the arts," he said. "First as a student, then as a speaker on a panel discussion, and now as an educator."
Projects he is working on include adding a second element to the microphone public art project, perhaps doing a collaboration with the whole university by talking to students doing a large-scale project.
"I'd like to do a collaboration with the whole university, talk to students about having little figurative objects like animals to represent all the other departments," he said. "That's the idea. We'll see how it goes."
Betsey Bruner can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2255.
"Potential to be Heard," by Ryan Lamfers, won Best of Show - Mixed Elements, at the 2012 "It's Elemental" exhibition at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
Photo courtesy of FCP