A tangle of raw steel bands lies, inflexible, pock marked and rusty in spots, against the wall of Edmonton metal artist Slavo Cech’s south-side studio. You’d be forgiven if you couldn’t immediately see the beauty in this mess.
And yet raw steel has always been the foundation for even the most delicate works by Cech, blacksmith, artisan and Metal Urges owner for 28 years. “That raw material,” he explains with enthusiasm, “could be used in a gear or a well head, but it also makes a thing of beauty.”
A lifelong Edmontonian, Cech sees a graceful symmetry between his favourite artistic medium and the city where he’s chosen to put down roots and do business.
“It’s the humbleness,” he says. “It’s that rawness.”
When the City of Edmonton reached out to Cech in 2016 to commission a piece for Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, he knew instantly it had to be steel. The resulting bison sculpture is a powerful yet delicate symbol of the Prairie landscape that surrounds his hometown, a gift he was honoured to present, alongside Mayor Don Iveson, to a visibly appreciative Edward during his visit in October.
Answering a commission for a foreign dignitary was the furthest thing from his mind in the early days of Metal Urges, recalls Cech. One of his first big jobs — and the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with many local restaurateurs, including Hardware Grill, Rostizado, Vivo and Lux, to name just a few — was a patio railing for Edmonton’s iconic Sidetrack Café.
Backing up even further, Cech recalls his first big moment on Edmonton’s business stage. Fresh out of NAIT’s marketing program, with a fledgling business selling holiday ornaments, in the winter of 1985 he approached the management of AGT (now Telus) about decorating their headquarters downtown with a big splash. More than 30 years later, those festive, blinking highrise-tall Christmas trees still greet Edmontonians on their descent into the river valley every holiday season.
“I had no idea it would last this long,” Cech marvels. “I was really just the ideas person, who wanted to take a risk and do something big.” Now, whether designing keepsakes for royal visitors or intricately carved gates for local homeowners, Cech remains faithful to the basic tenets of good business with which he began. “You have to be authentic,” he stresses, when pressed for advice to budding entrepreneurs. “Follow through on your promises — this is a small town. Your word is gold, and you really only get one chance to strike out.”
While those golden rules don’t change, much has in the business world since Cech first opened his doors. As a startup, he got his name out with gallery showings both here and in other western Canadian cities, which strengthened his credibility at home, he says, and word-of-mouth ensured that he kept busy.
Today, the Internet — Cech reaches international clientele through a website called Saatchi Art— helps spread the word, and he enjoys a solid reputation both as a creative risk-taker and a trustworthy business person.
“Social media has played a huge role in putting my work out there,” as well, he says. What’s also changed for today’s arts entrepreneur, notes Cech, is the explosion of collectives and incubators — such as Edmonton Made and the Mercer Collective — where the community can gather for support and to share ideas.
Has he ever been tempted to pick up and start over somewhere else? Years ago it looked for a while like family circumstances might necessitate a move. But thankfully, he says, it didn’t happen. Here in Edmonton, says Cech, “we roll up our sleeves and get it done. We don’t outsource. We make it work for us here.”
“Edmonton is a beautiful place to live and do business,” he sums up. “I’ve never wanted to leave.”