ENTERPRISE, OR — This small town with a smattering of old stone buildings is one of a humble string of rural pearls on a road that arcs through northeastern Oregon into the soaring Wallowa Mountains.
It's here, along with nearby Joseph, that an industry of bronze foundries, now numbering four, have taken root and won fame and business among national and international artists.
Among those is 20-year-old Parks Bronze, housed in an unimpressive cluster of metal buildings in an industrial park at the west end of town; it's the place where the bronze Tom McCall sculpture for Salem's Riverfront Park was created. The statue will be installed Sept. 25 and dedicated at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 26 in Riverfront Park.
Foundry owner Steve Parks said business has slowed, a result of a faltering economy and a recent tripling of bronze prices to $5 per pound, and he has a staff of 20 now, down from a peak of 49.
But he's still in a world of alpine beauty.
"It's heavenly here," he said last week. "Fortunately, there's not a lot to do here."
In a town where an auto dealer went bankrupt with $9 million in debts, the timber industry is largely defunct and the only electronics store may soon close, Parks offers a stable, rewarding job.
Clifton Gockley, who pours the molten bronze and sandblasts bronze castings, said it's a good job, one he's held 11 years.
"It's the best job you'll find in this community," he said.
Still, as Rip Caswell, sculptor of the McCall statue pointed out, you won't find much glamour here.
"It's hard, dirty work."
The complex of work spaces is booming with loud music and talk shows, so the craftsman can hear over their tools.
Barrels of silica sand and slurry, piles of bronze ingots and dozens of kitchen broilers, filled with molten waxes at different temperatures, fill the dusty, drab work spaces.
But appearances are deceiving; more than 100 artists have their work cast and finished to perfection here.
Caswell said he prizes the empathy and easy communication of Parks and his dependable, experienced craftsmen. When he says something, Parks gets it exactly, Caswell said.
Different production lines exist for the smaller statues and the larger monuments, such as the McCall statue, which stands almost 10 feet tall, with a fly rod that nearly doubles its height.
"The difficult thing is getting really good, trained help," Parks said.
"There is no school that trains them right for a commercial foundry."