By Barb Shelley
Photos by Maike Munden and Submitted by Irene Deely
Some artists would have given up when—after 25 years as the Woman of Steel, and the creation of hundreds of welded steel sculptures—she triggered an allergy to her medium. It wasn’t an allergy just to the steel, burns, fires, broken bones, and burnt corneas, it was a reaction to the entire environment. But Eagle-based artist, Irene Deely, did not give up. She closed her studio and began exploring other mediums, soon discovering a passion for bronze — using nontoxic materials.
Now, her body of work can be seen in public and private exhibitions in Idaho and around the country. At least one piece is in Canada and another in the Republic of Zambia.
“I couldn’t break steel, but steel broke me,” Irene recalls, her voice rich with a full timbre fitting for an artist. “Steel appealed to my intuition and large movement tendencies, but now bronze is filling my need to work with my hands in three dimensions. To be able to walk around my art, touch it, enjoy the messiness of its creation and know that others too will touch it is heaven.”
A pair of eagles in their nest, titled “Commitment” on the corner of Eagle Road and Highway 44, is one of her welded steel pieces. Many people have seen and even climbed on her sculpture of Abraham Lincoln sitting on a bench with his top hat in Boise’s Julia Davis Park. Some may know that she collaborated on the design and built the 2009 Special Olympics cauldron displayed at the Boise Airport when Idaho hosted 2,500 world athletes.
But her best known, most widely traveled piece was born out of grief and heartache. After the horrific events of 9/11, she and husband Bob were moved to find a way to inspire and comfort. They self-commissioned “Liberty Let’s Roll!” — an eight-foot, heroic scaled sculpture mounted on a trailer, which traveled uncovered 20,000 miles on three cross country tours. It is the Statue of Liberty side kicking in a Bruce Lee style, Kungfu stance.
The title, “Let’s Roll!” refers to passengers on United Flight 93 who rushed the hijackers and diverted the plane into a field in Pennsylvania saving many lives while losing their own.
The Gowen Field Air National Guard Base top officer at the time presented Irene with the prestigious Seven Seals Award for her efforts to inspire and encourage the public and the military.
What happened to “Liberty Let’s Roll!”? Eagle Magazine has the scoop. Irene realized that the message and intention had become distorted, so the sculpture was melted and remade into a new piece of art.
What is Irene’s next artistic pursuit? She envisions a noisy, mixed media, full-sized, wild installation so big that people can enter the piece and experience it. The temporary piece will someday be created on her 10-acre property in Eagle.
To view more of her art, find her on Facebook. To sign up for her monthly Identity & Art class text her at 208-703-6461.