Montana artist’s metal eagle soaring over Wyoming town

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MILLS, Wyo. (AP) — A metal eagle with a 48-foot wingspan now keeps watch over cars as they pass along Wyoming Boulevard in Mills. The stainless steel head and tail gleam in the sunlight and set off the rust patina of steel feathers along the bird’s body and wings.

The sculpture installed last month at Wyoming Boulevard and Second Street is part of planned improvements and beautification to the riverfront area, Mills Mayor Seth Coleman said.

Representing courage and growth, an eagle suits Mills as the town anticipates officially becoming a first-class city after the next census, he said.

“And it just seemed to us to symbolize the changes and the trajectory that the town is on,” he said.

The eagle sculpture was created by artist Todd Berget of Libby. Mills business owner Rick Bonander of Inter-Mountain Pipe and Threading spotted the sculpture for sale a few years ago outside a business in Kalispell. Last spring, he pitched the idea of placing the sculpture in Mills to the Town Council.

The Council approved the $75,000 purchase and began fundraising efforts, which are ongoing to cover the sculpture and planned landscaping around it, Coleman said.

The eagle is the first monument sculpture installed Mills, according to the town.

“We all thought it fit real well with what we’re trying to do as far as cleaning up the public spaces and beautifying the public areas throughout town,” Coleman said.

A design for the landscaping project features a terrace around the eagle, a concrete walking path and a parking lot for access to both the sculpture and an existing boat ramp, he said. Town officials wants to raise about $100,000 for the planned improvements, which also include additional parking, a 6-foot precast concrete wall listing donors in steel plates, lighting and flags.

“It goes hand in hand having this eagle here across from what we’re trying to do on the riverfront, and make the riverfront a place for recreation and for restaurants and shops and having something that kind of makes this more of a destination where people would come to see this,” Coleman said.

Several Mills and Casper area residents and businesses have donated money and services to haul and install the 8,100-pound piece, Coleman said.

Berget designed the eagle to come apart and with hidden spots to hook a chain, the sculptor said. The retired teacher, artist and owner of Custom Iron Eagles in Libby has so far created 95 eagles since he started in 1997.

“I’ve painted about 120 murals up to date, but I was always a welder, so I wanted to make something,” Berget said. “So I ended up making my first eagle with a friend of mine — it was about a 45-foot wingspan — and had fun doing it. And the rest is kind of history, you would say.”

The eagles range in size from 6 feet across to his largest, the Mills sculpture, he said. The artist believes the Mills eagle also is the largest metal eagle in North America and perhaps South and Central America, he said.

Berget uses scrap metal whenever he can in his sculptures. The Mills eagle’s talons are made from exhaust pipes that an auto body shop couldn’t use, for instance. He created the inner structure out of sprinkler system pipes from a wood mill that was damaged by heavy snow.

His eagle sculptures appear around Libby and in several states, and Berget was pleased when he learned of the Mills eagle — his first in Wyoming, he said.

“I’ll definitely make it down there to see it one of these days,” he said.

Bonander, the Mills business owner who first pushed for the eagle, has been involved in gateway sculpture projects through the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce’s beautification committee, including a bronze monument by Fort Caspar Museum and “Man Made Energy” in east Casper. The eagle caught his attention because it’s spectacular, the price was right and it was available to be installed right away, Bonander said.

Now he drives by the sculpture every day.

“I think it’s awesome, I mean it’s just beautiful,” Bonander said. “And it’s in the perfect position where it’s sky-lighted as you drive down the road from either direction.”

Community response to the eagle has been positive. A video of the installation posted on the Mills Facebook page racked up 13,000 views. The vast majority of comments have expressed appreciation, Coleman said.

A close look at the eagle shows interesting details of its industrial construction, he said.

“It’s stuff that you’d see in a welding shop, and this guy took it and made it into a sculpture,” Coleman said. “Mills has always been an industrial area; it was originally founded to serve the refinery. And so having a sculpture that is very industrial type sculpture seems to fit our community well.”