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Mitchell Dillman turns catastrophes into art with his sustainable structural sculptures 

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
Mitchell Dillman, a former Manitoid, has spent most of his life in construction, working as a framer.

“I went to college and stuff, but I just stayed in construction up until ’08, when the economy crashed,” he says. His company went bankrupt, and he hit bottom. With nowhere to go but up, he transitioned into art, something he’d wanted to try his hand at since childhood.

A decade later, after more hardship and a lot of luck, his sculpture, “Aspires,” was selected to be part of the Downtown Partnership’s 2017-2018 Art on the Streets exhibit. (It comes down soon; info for People’s Choice voting on the 2017-2018 selections below.) “Aspires” pays homage to his previous career; it’s constructed from local fire-killed pine, secured with steel with decorative welds.

“It’s not something [where] you’re gonna go buy that lumber at Home Depot,” he says. Rather, he mills and kilns the lumber he uses in his art through his business, Colorado Springs Sawmill, which was recently priced out of the Springs and reopened in Penrose, Colorado. He says “Aspires” and his other works are a minor act of and a major push for environmental stewardship, a way of pulling dead trees out of the state’s forests.

According to Boyd Lebeda, supervisory forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, dead trees pose two major threats: falling on people or infrastructure, and exacerbating forest fires. “If a forest burns in an area where most of the trees are living, it’s generally just the needles and the small-diameter branches, and not necessarily the [trunks] that burn...” he says. But dry, dead wood burns readily, making forest fires more intense.

Dillman intends to fill the sawmill property with sustainably built sculptures of all shapes and many sizes — mostly big, as “Aspires” is about half the size he can build with his current setup. They’d be viewable from Third Street, just off Highway 115, basically a permanent outdoor gallery.

“Picture that with moving parts and LED lights on solar panels... made from Colorado wood, resources we have in abundance,” he says.

People’s Choice voting for this year’s Art on the Streets exhibit continues through Sunday, May 20. Go to tinyurl.com/AOTS2018 for details and a full list of artworks.

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