Ideally, Bobbie K Owens wants everyone to take the bait that his latest outdoor art is as slick as a big bluegill. Cast your gaze into his elaborate, rural, oversized studio southwest of Grandview Lake in Columbus and see for yourself about what he calls a team effort.
At first glance, his 28-foot-long Red Devil fishing lure looks big enough to attract Moby Dick. But that’s not exactly what he’s fishing for with his 450-pound resin-and-steel creation — one that will be unveiled as a permanent piece at the bicentennial Celebration on the River at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Upland Columbus Pump House along the East Fork of White River.
“I wanted to make make something that even the big city people in New York — and those are people I still deal with artistically — ultimately think is pretty cool,” he said, acknowledging that he battles insecurity as much as anyone. “Really, the idea was that I would make something that you could put almost anywhere.
“And I wanted something that would impress the guy with the Skoal in his back pocket, as maybe he’s driving by with his fishing poles visible in the back window. I wanted to make something that would make him smile.”
A small circle of friends who hang out with him — guys who joke that if Owens is a painter, he should be painting their fences and such — is impressed. One is Jeff Smiley, a former longtime auto body shop owner who has assisted on the work. Smiley and Owens have been friends since their boyhood days in New Castle.
Smiley believes the lure will look fantastic once it is suspended from 35-foot fishing-style poles made for the pieces.
“I’ve always been excited about Bobbie’s projects and things,” Smiley said. “He’s come a long way on this. I helped him a little bit. But he’s doing the majority of it now. And now he looks pretty comfortable handling the (painting) gun.”
The 68-year-old artist, who moved here with wife Libby from Toronto, Canada, in 1989 expecting the city to serve as a transition to a metro art area, acknowledged being humbled by the task — an effort that eventually required contracting the work to an Indianapolis firm to sculpt out the lure bodies.
“I initially bit off a little more than I can chew,” Owens said with a laugh. “This is labor intensive. This is the way people did hot rods in the 1960s.”
The local artwork is one of three lures Owens is creating for Upland locations at the company’s commissioning. Ultimately, a second one also could wind up here.
Community leader Tony Moravec owns the Upland building and came up with the bicentennial event idea. He and others connected with Upland agreed to support what Owens simply calls the River Lure Project when the artist proposed it.
“We saw it as a unique art expression for Columbus,” Moravec said. “Bobbie’s a great member of the community and a great artist.”
A second, smaller lure being painted a candy-apple blue soon will grace a new Upland location on the Ohio River in Jeffersonville.
“All of these lures are (copied from) classics,” said Owens. “If you had a tackle box (years ago), you had these in there. But if you look up close, you’ll see my style on them, too.”
He initially worked out a deal with Upland for the project three years ago. Yet, he first conceived of such a general idea years before that when artist friends of his were landing grants for such river-related work in Indianapolis.
“But I wasn’t a grant guy,” he said. “I was just too lazy to do the paperwork.”
When one hears him rattle off the litany of steps of creating the lures, he surely seems the opposite of lazy. And he hasn’t enjoyed a lazy day of fishing in years, by the way. Exhibiting in art shows from New York to Russia to Belgium through the years takes time. His latest free exhibition, “Bobbie K Owens 32/200” runs at Gallery 506 at the Columbus Area Visitors Center through Aug. 14 as a Columbus career retrospective in his 32-year stay locally.
Over the years, he also has served as an art teacher at ABC Stewart School on Indiana 46 West. That’s how he met the Moravecs.
“They’re maverick thinkers,” Owens said. “They’re so classy.”
Some might say that sounds a lot like Bobbie K Owens, too.
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In Columbus: Since 1989
Family: Wife Libby Jewell, married 37 years. Daughters Ale Owens DesJean, (Charlotte, North Carolina), Carleigh Owens (Columbus), and granddaughters, Caroline and Kathryn DesJean, (Charlotte. North Carolina).
Art training: Dayton Art Institute.
To the wonder: “I believe we all come into this world with a passionate sense of wonderment. To hold on to this childhood innocence is not easy. We work at this all our lives.”
Other public commissions besides the current River Lure Project: National Endowment of Arts: Arts For Learning & The Indiana Affiliate of Young Audiences, Indianapolis, Indiana; Algorithm Coffee Company, Berkeley, California.
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For more photos, visit therepublic.com.