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Fabricating

Fabrication fantastique

By Lynn Stanley

Sculptor’s super-sized steel creations roam southern California countryside

April 2015 - Ricardo Breceda has been called a sorcerer of sheet metal, a magician and a conjuror. Most people who see his work quickly run out of adjectives and decide to simply call the 52-year-old self-taught metal sculptor a modern-day legend. 

If you happen to be driving down Temecula, California’s Highway 79, Breceda’s gallery and sculpture garden isn’t difficult to find. Larger-than-life wild horses, like breadcrumbs, lead the way, their steel bodies alive with dynamic movement. A full-size stagecoach rests roadside, its exterior so detailed it appears ready to take on passengers. 

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If you want to test your mettle, drive approximately 90 minutes further south to the Anza-Borrego Desert where gargantuan dinosaurs roam alongside massive hairy mammoths. You’ll find an enormous scorpion poised to strike, a gargoyle rising up out of the sands and prowling saber tooth tigers. You might also spot a cowboy panning for gold or an American Indian scanning the horizon. Breceda’s metal menagerie commands three miles of the region’s Galleta Meadows. The steel and varnished beasts number more than 130 at last count. Like their counterparts in the movie Jurassic Park III, many have escaped the confines of the desert to multiply and roam galleries, parks and businesses across the U.S. 

Making a wish

Breceda says his 16-year career as a sculptor began quite by accident when his 6-year-old daughter asked for a dinosaur for Christmas. Unlike most fathers, Breceda did not go to the nearest store to pick out a stuffed animal or a plastic model. Instead he hammered, welded and assembled steel, shaping the metal into a 20 ft. by 45 ft. Tyrannosaurus Rex. “It took me nearly two years to complete the project,” he recalls of those days in Perris, California, where his creatures first emerged. “When I put the sculpture next to the throughway on Interstate 215 it stopped traffic for two days.” TV and news reporters quickly followed and the story, like Breceda’s reputation, spread. 

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Breceda is an old world craftsman shunning machines to work the metal by hand. “When you use machines everything looks the same,” he says. “I make my own hammers etching special details into the striking surface so that each hit leaves a unique mark or texture. Every piece has to have the right shape and form—that is what makes it beautiful.”

His most notable creation might be the 350-ft.-long serpent with a dragon’s head. Its head rises high above the desert floor [in Galleta Meadows] while its scaled body appears to move wave-like in and out of the sand. Due to the size of his sculptures, Breceda says he hand fabricates his projects in pieces, hammering, shaping and welding legs, heads and tails. He assembles each figure on-site. “The serpent took 10 trailers to transport all of the pieces,” Breceda says. “I worked every day in the desert for three months to put it together.”

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Paying it forward

Breceda’s studio holds smaller sculptures—all for sale—but he gravitates toward projects that are extra-large. He sources both new and recycled steel just about anywhere he can get it and in any gauge. The artist, now highly sought after, divides his time between his own projects and those of his customers. He also holds two open houses at his studio each year to showcase other artists. “It’s a way to give back,” he says of the events where close to 20 artists can be seen working in different mediums against a backdrop of music, food and conversation. “It’s good for the artists and the community and it’s good for the town.”

When asked how he learned to hammer and weld such large structures, he says, time, passion and love. “At first my pieces weren’t that pretty. But they have evolved and gained their own personalities. I’m happy I became an artist,” he adds. “When I focus on my work, my worries disappear and the time flies.” FFJ

 

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