COEUR d'ALENE — Harold Balazs made his way through The Art Spirit Gallery on Saturday, cane in shaky hand, chatting with guests and signing copies of one of his books.
The 87-year-old walked past many of the 157 works of his own art displayed in the gallery, stopping at one to turn it because the colorful and whimsical enamel had been unknowingly placed upside down.
More than 50 people crowded around Balazs during his informal talk and slide show that projected only some of his many works of art he created over the years.
"He has been such a part of the community around here for so long that he has a huge following," said Steve Gibbs, owner of The Art Spirit Gallery. "He has given so much, whether it's to kids or Art on the Green or the big public art pieces all around Spokane."
Balazs received his bachelor's degree in art from Washington State University 65 years ago, and for the last six decades his art has spread around the Northwest, decorating many homes as well as parks, plazas, schools, libraries, offices and college campuses.
Gibbs said over the last 19 years of the gallery's history, it has been his pleasure many times to display Balazs' artwork.
"Harold is such a gem and such an icon," Gibbs said. "It's so nice to really be able to provide a venue that people can come see the work and collect it and appreciate it, and we consider it a complete privilege to be able to show it."
Balazs continues to create many different types of art, including drawings, paintings, enamels, sculptures and jewelry. Some of his pieces are made from old stuff laying around that he was trying to clear out, resulting in rugged multi-media pieces of wood and copper and other mediums.
"Some of my things I purposely make rather whimsical," Balazs told the crowd. "My favorite sculptural medium is copper, which I more or less have given up because of health reasons."
With the exhibit displaying more than 100 new works as well as many from the past, Gibbs said one of the beautiful things about the show is that people can see, at 87, how Balazs still creates pieces with vibrant colors and wonderful work, but can also see how it has changed over the years. Many of his enamels used to be hard-edge stencil work, but Gibbs said Balazs can't do that anymore, so now they are done free-form with softer edges that he sprinkles a powder-style paint loosely on before baking the enamel in an oven.
One of his most famous works can be seen at Riverfront Park in Spokane from when he was chosen as the primary artist for the World's Fair in 1974 when it was held in Spokane. His towering, 32-foot sculpture resembling a Japanese lantern took 20 concrete panels to construct. Another sculpture he crafted of stainless steel in 1982, the "Centennial Sculpture," is in the river at the park. In 2006 he helped construct the large "Rotary Fountain" in Riverfront Park as well.
Not all of his sculpture work is as large as the creations at Riverfront. Some of his smaller sculptures are part of the Art Spirit exhibit.
"Most of my sculptures over the years were just done because I felt the need to do them," Balazs said with a sly smile. "And to hope, by sticking them in a gallery like this, someone would have the niceness to buy one."
Balazs has won multiple awards, including the American Insitute of Architects Gold Medal for Architectural Craft, the Creative Achievement Award from the Enamellist Society and the Seattle Metal Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Some of his work is even displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A 160-page book displaying many of his most popular and largest works of art was published in 2010. Another book he published is a family-themed book of drawings titled "The Family Outing."
The exhibit, which opened Friday, can be viewed in the gallery until Feb. 6. The Art Spirit is located at 415 E. Sherman Ave.
Info: 765-6006 or www.theartspiritgallery.com
Harold Balazs, 87, has been working as an artist in the northwest for more than six decades, in mediums spanning metal sculpture, concrete reliefs, enamel murals and others. He was the primary artist of the world's fair in 1974. A collection of his, including recent pieces, will be on display at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d'Alene until Feb. 6.