Meet Michael Perks
By Craig Couillard
I have always admired people with artistic talents — musicians, writers, sculptors, songwriters, and actors. Each has a unique back story as individual as their works of art. But I have to say, Michael Perks story is as varied as it is interesting.
Even at an early age, Michael was always interested in art. “But oil and acrylics never seemed to work for me, so after high school, I pursued other careers,” said Michael.
That led him to the ski industry, where he has spent 32 years, the last 20 overseeing snowmaking and grooming at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. “Each year, I spend the first two months of the season getting the hill ready to open and concluding with the World Cup event held each year in early December.”
Michael eventually became a millwright and welder. Those skills reignited his artistic desire. “I would make small sculptures for my friends in my spare time. I made my girlfriend a 100-lb functional Valentine’s Day card, complete with engravings.”
It must have worked because Claire Thompson became Claire Perks. “I welded up a box for her engagement ring with three locks that she had to crack. Surprisingly, she opened them sooner than I thought,” he said with a chuckle.
Many artists are plagued with insecurities when they first start putting their work in front of the public. Michael was no exception. “In the early days, I spent over 70 hours making an abstract metal horse. I didn’t know if anybody would like it as I was basically revealing a bit of myself. But when it sold, it wasn’t so much about the money but about the affirmation that I might be able to make a living as an artist. But even now, 10 years later, I still get the butterflies before I open at the Calgary Stampede, wondering how people will react to what I’ve created.”
Since then, this award-winning artist’s career has skyrocketed. He is a much-in-demand artist with both commissioned work plus the pieces he creates for his annual show at the Calgary Stampede. He explains, “I love to make art that make people think.”
His work is so unique that he was commissioned by a bar in St. Louis, Missouri, to create the 14’ x 8’ Tree of the Dead sculpture comprised of 5,000 pieces of metal to look like human bones that hold nine bottles of tequila. His display of a 1976 swather called The Fragility of Farming was the centrepiece at the Calgary Stampede in 2021.
Michael is quick to credit his wife, Claire. “She encouraged me to take the plunge full-time and even supported me financially while I honed my craft and built up some inventory that first year. We’re not only business partners; we’re best friends.”
Located just outside of Okotoks, Alta, Claire manages their other company, Little Monkey Metal Works, which produces smaller pieces like fire pits, gate signs and custom stair railings. “We want to create art that is affordable in all price ranges. That’s why we’re not in galleries. We like to get to know our customers and sell direct,” explained Michael.