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From ‘Be-News’ to the ‘Insane-A-Cycle’: Bill Morrow’s whimsical sculptures

Sections: News Published

By Genevieve Villamizar
Special to The Sopris Sun

On the street, William S. Morrow looks like a Harley guy-meets-Christmas elf playing hooky from the North Pole. His chest-length silver beard is smooth and clean, blending in with the long curtain of clean, silky hair hanging from under a welder’s cap. The eyes shining from the shade of a visor hold a lifetime of self-amusement. “William” is too formal for this guy. He goes by “Bill.”

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“I was always a daydreamer. I barely got out of high school, graduating with maybe a low-C, high-D average. People knew I was smart; I was just bored,” he laughs.

Thus, the “Insane-A-Cycle .”

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With no announcements, no non-profit or committee backing — no pomp at all — Highway 133 suddenly has a 16-foot long crazy-ass motorcycle sculpture parked in the right-of-way at the Roaring Fork Co-Op. There’s not been a time this writer has run, biked or driven past “The Insane-A-Cycle” that there weren’t grown men just standing there, gawking at it with awe, wistfulness, or longing.

It’s obvious Bill knows bikes. And welding.

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“I used to have a 1962 BMW R60. It was a sidecar bike, but it didn’t have one. I sold it for $600. Paid bills with half and bought a torch welder with the other half.” He’s been making art ever since.

He knew he was building a motorcycle when he saw the tank from a FarmAll diesel tractor. It took Bill two years to gather parts. The wheels came later, from a horse-drawn hay rake. He constructed the tires out of fuel delivery hose he found at the Garfield County landfill, off of a tanker truck. By the time he cut the brass couplers off, the hose just fit perfectly. It was meant to be. Bill mentions “magic” a lot in his conversations.

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All of his sculptures are welded not just of metal, but stories and relationships, history and happenings from Rifle — where he was born in 1945 in a stone house — and around the Western Slope. Bill is a part of this valley, with stories to fill a book, peopled with the long-time characters we all know. His life and relationships are deep and somewhat miraculous, to hear him tell it.

Take the Insane-A-Cycle’s rider, for example.

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“John Douglas was a pretty famous Harley builder, over in New Castle. People bought new bikes and sent ’em to John to customize. He had piles of brand new chrome. He offered me a truckful of bike parts,” recalls Bill. “He died in a bike accident,” he adds.

Just because he’s playful, (you’ll discover splattered bugs on the front of the bike) and full of social commentary, (the insect bodies are the old fashioned church key openers, representing “barflies”) Bill wanted handcuffs. For the Harley chrome rider. “These guys don’t own the bike. The bike owns you!” he says.

“A week ago, Monday, Johnny Holmes, after 37 years with the Houston, Texas DA’s office, is pumping fuel,” as Bill explains it. They strike up a conversation at the Insane-A-Cycle, and Bill ponders aloud his lack of legitimate handcuffs. “Holmes rifles around in his truck and can’t believe he doesn’t have any. The wife overhears, reaches right into the side door and pulls out bonafide leg irons. She even has the key!” Now Bill has that key, and the Insane-A-Cycle forever owns the Harley chrome rider. You can own both, for a cool hundred grand.

Other work

While “The Insane-A-Cycle ” has made quite a splash, Bill’s sculptures are already familiar to us from our everyday Bonedale ramblings. They’re often whimsical, and again, the people, places and history of this valley make them possible.

“Caduceus” was commissioned as a 65th birthday gift for Gary Knaus and now sits at Roaring Fork Family Physicians. Comprised mainly of parts from a Danish harrow, each segment of the serpents’ bodies was singularly welded. Pipe halves from Emma Danziger’s Tybar Ranch formed a mold within which to weld, and boom, two lovers, intertwined, “whispering to one another,” as Bill says. The bird came from strap iron used to secure wooden beams. He cut each one apart, resulting in what he feels are a “murmuration of birds, all flying together.”

One of Bill’s older pieces, “Be-News,” was a collaboration with John Hoffman. Bill designed it and they made it in Hoffman’s shop. It stands for “Bonedale Neighborhood Early Warning System.” Fabricated of long tubular metal poles, it was designed to hang all those banners announcing community events, which it did for many years at Highway 133 and Main Street before it was moved to the Third Street Center when the roundabout was built.

Listening to Bill piece together his life through art is endless surprise. There’s a big heart and lot of sentiment in everything he does. He has quietly made his mark on the Western Slope art scene. In Grand Junction, he helped to grow the downtown Art On The Corner program. He is also proud of his contributions to Rifle’s Bookcliffs Art Council, which occupies his 100-year old childhood home. When his parents moved on, he was an integral part of fundraising to secure this site for the art council.

Bill prefers to fly under the radar. He’s never submitted a piece to Carbondale’s own Art Around Town sculpture program. He prefers to create and give as the spirit moves him, and does commissions. His most astonishing piece is an intricate pine cone study he did for Marty Stouffer of “Wild America” fame. He has a powerful little piece at KDNK, next to John Doyle’s totem pole, called “Spark of Inspiration.” There’s a crazy, colorful piece outside of Main Street Liquors. The Carbondale Library holds space for “Out There,” a playful piece Bill admits is “just out there. Everything is possible when you’re out there!”

And that describes Bill quite well. He’s out there.

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