Versatile craftsman a master of whirlygigs

BARONS, Alta. — The tire tread marks on the road leading to Doug Costall’s acreage tell the tale of vehicles that stop, park and turn around.

The occupants pause to look at his art that spins.

It’s a collection of wind-driven moving metal sculptures that stand along secondary Highway 520 between Barons and Claresholm in southwestern Alberta.

Costall, a welder and metal fabricator, has worked all over the world in the oil and gas industry, but he has been using the wind to move his art since settling on this property eight years ago.

His field display along the highway has whirlygigs featuring horses, planes, a globe and abstract designs that turn quietly in the breeze.

“The big advantage of the whirlygigs is that the resistance is almost equal to the pressure of the force, so they never get going too fast,” said Costall.

However, those are only part of his repertoire. He also makes weather vanes, gates and other items by customer request. Those who have visited the Canadian Angus Association offices in Calgary have seen a Costall creation of cows and maple leaves, as well as a metal tree with 100 leaves.

Costall seems dismissive of the artist description.

“I saw (a whirlygig) when I was travelling in the U.S. and I brought it back. Then I started making different ones. Lots of it is just pieces left over when I make stuff, and so I just use up what I’ve got.”

The leftovers come from the construction of industrial cab units that are used for gravel crusher operations. He builds them complete with hydraulic lift systems, windows, upholstery and flooring.

He uses the metal remaining from those projects to create his art.

“I like making different ones,” said Costall.

Many of his creations involve multiple copies of one motif, such as maple leafs or butterflies.

“Most of them I do freehand,” he said.

“The odd time, if I’ve got something that’s critical, I’ll make one and use that as a pattern to follow. But I find that freehand is quicker and most of the time they’re pretty close.”

The metal sculptures have a base with two bearings. The larger the unit, the larger the bearing, and he uses common parts.

“If they do give up, you can get them at any hardware store, but I haven’t had any fail.”

Customers have given him unusual requests. A neighbour asked for a whirlygig featuring motocross bikes. Another customer asked for a chicken weather vane with Canadian and Alberta flags on its wings.

At one end of the shop is a flying pig weathervane along with the more typical running horse with the north, south, east and west directional letters.

The roadside display and the artthatspins.com website tend to suffice for marketing, said Costall. He has been to only one trade show, with good results, but he doesn’t want to get too busy because “weekends are for the grandkids or for travelling around.”

Even so, he averaged one or two sculptures a week last year for customers.

Costall said he didn’t choose to live in this region because of the wind, though the prevailing westerlies have apparently been somewhat inspirational.

In this corner of Alberta, where wind turbines stand on many of the high points, wind speeds have been clocked at 144 km-h.

Fortunately that isn’t a frequent occurrence, but there is usually enough moving air to show off Costall’s art to good advantage.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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