Richland sculptor finds his focus

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMarch 31, 2013 

RICHLAND -- Michael Salazar grew up in Pasco, drawing and doodling his way through school -- and happy doing it.

His parents and teachers weren't so happy about his attention being drawn away from his regular school work.

"I used to think I had ADD (attention deficit disorder) because I couldn't get interested in school," he said. "All I wanted to do was draw."

But his parents didn't think art was important back then. "They thought I needed to stay focused on working for a living, not creating art," Salazar said. "And I didn't get any incentive artistically from my teachers either, so I dropped out of high school in my junior year, but I did get my GED later."

Today, at 51, Salazar hasn't lost an ounce of his passion for art but recently switched his attention to sculpting busts.

When he isn't driving a truck for WPX Delivery Solutions, he's sketching out black and white portraits of historic figures, then uses those as a model for his sculptures.

"I've never sculpted using a live model before, but I would love to do that eventually," he said.

A selection of Salazar's busts will be on exhibit at the Richland Public Library from April 14-28. The terra cotta sculptures are molded from clay found in the Columbia Basin, then fired to harden into their shape.

Some of the famous people he's sculpted include likenesses of Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln. He also has created wooden sculptures using a chain saw.

The busts are about 26 inches tall and weigh about 15 pounds. Each takes him 20 to 40 hours, though he says his artwork is never done.

"There's always something you see in a finished piece that could have been different," he said. "The Martin Luther King Jr. bust was perhaps the most challenging I've done so far, and I have no idea why. But you have to eventually let a piece go and move on to the next one."

He gets his blocks of clay from Tri-City artist Pat Fleming, who digs it out of various sites around the Columbia Basin.

Salazar creates his clay busts in the kitchen of his Richland home. A butcher block in the middle of the kitchen is where the clay rests as he digs in, sculpting a face, chiseling out shadows and adding depth.

"My wife (Karen) doesn't mind that I work in the kitchen most of the time as long as I don't make too much of a mess and clean up after myself," he added with smile.

Salazar hasn't come up with prices for his sculptures yet. Similar quality artworks sell for more than $500 in art galleries nationwide.

"I just don't know what kind of price to put on these pieces," he said. "I never thought about cost before. I just love to do this, so I do it. I've been drawing for as long as I can remember and the thought of not creating art is unthinkable for me."

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