Metal Artist John Martin Steeby
By Jim Dyar
Photo: Brett Faulknor
The endeavors John Martin Streeby pours his time and energy into carry a common element. There’s a definite connection between metal sculpture art, poetry and the sport of fencing.
“It’s about recognizing rhythmic patterns in sculpture, or in language or in movements,” he says. “I’ve just been compelled to do those kinds of activities.”
In the North State, Martin Streeby is probably best known as the creator of the stainless steel salmon sculptures that appear to leap from the medians at the intersection of Cypress Avenue, Pine and Market streets in Redding. He also created the salmon, trio of turtles and pair of eagles that populate the Highway 44 median between downtown Redding and the Sacramento River.
One of Martin Streeby’s sculptures greets visitors in front of View 202 restaurant in Redding, and his abstract metal twists can be found atop the dividers at Cicada Cantina, another Redding eatery. A series of his salmon, including 9- and 12-foot versions, are displayed at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery near Anderson.
Prior to living in the North State, Martin Streeby saw a series of iron sculptures in Taos, N.M., and had an “I can do that” moment. He began to focus in earnest on his own creations, and even began to earn contract work while living in El Paso, Texas, in the mid-1990s.
“I bought a plasma cutter and started doing silhouettes, things like Kokopellis, garden art, birds and cranes,” he says. “The first attraction was working in a forge, banging on things and making sparks. I just liked the malleability and the things you can do with metal.”
He moved to Redding in 1998 with his wife Michelle and her son, Skeeter, after Michelle landed a job as the Record Searchlight’s marketing director. (John Martin Streeby also has a son, David, who lives near Portland, Ore.) That year, while his work was being displayed at the Old City Hall Christmas Art Sale, he met former Redding City Manager Mike Warren, who told him about the city’s Art in Public Places program. The meeting led to his commission for the original salmon project.
“It was a very visible project and I got a lot of work from it,” Martin Streeby says. “It’s a real outdoorsy town. Everybody knows the fish.”
Many of Martin Streeby’s more abstract pieces appeared in Redding’s Gallery 833, which helped him secure a number of private commissions. For larger or multiple pieces, he often works with Greg Barnhart of NorCal Metal Fabricators in Anderson.
He enjoys the blend of art and design that continually challenge his intellect and creativity.
“You can’t just offer one thing,” Martin Streeby says. “You have to be able to do it all. Every project becomes a new adventure of how you are going to build something.”
Metal sculpture art is but one dimension of Martin Streeby’s colorful life. Born in Sioux City, Iowa, he served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, working as a surgical technician at the 85th EVAC Hospital in Phu Bai. When he returned home in 1972 after an 11-month tour, he began expressing in poetry what he had experienced during the conflict.
“It was a process of self-discovery… exploration and discovery,” he says.
After a stint at Iowa State, Martin Streeby worked in the construction field and later attended schools for both horseshoeing and light horse management. He began to groom, train and shoe horses all over the country. His horse jobs took him to Iowa, Minnesota, Florida, Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and California.
He began fencing while attending Iowa State in 1973 and fenced nearly every day. After dropping the sport for several years, he picked the saber back up in the late 1980s in Albuquerque and even trained under iconic U.S. fencing champion Andy Shaw. Martin Streeby continues to fence and teach the sport to this day.
“I never liked team sports,” he says. “Fencing is individual and I enjoy the whole timing and rhythm of it.”
And that can be said for his love of poetry and metal art, as well. For more information about Martin Streeby’s work, e-mail him at [email protected] •