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Burning Man: Sonoma man’s art is nothing to ‘snort’ at


“All by myself,” says artist-sculptor Bryan Tedrick, of Glen Ellen. “That’s how I like to work. Just me and the metal – and the idea.”

Tedrick’s latest “idea” is a big one.

Built out of steel, standing 20-feet tall and 30-feet wide, the massive sculpture resembles a gigantic mechanical boar. Tedrick has whimsically dubbed his creation Lord Snort.

The large metallic beastie – balanced on a giant shaft and designed to rotate 360 degrees – bears an aggressively lordly, solidly masculine demeanor. Whether viewed up-close or in photographs, the 20,000-pound metal monster is agreeably frightening. It’s ready-for-mischief posture makes the thing look as if it’s preparing to leap up into the air, all set to chase down speeding vehicles or snatch low-flying airplanes out of the sky.

If Lord Snort does any of those things, he will have plenty of witnesses. The sculpture is headed off to Nevada this week, where it will be featured among thousands of other displays at the annual Burning Man Festival, running Aug. 28 through Sept. 5. Tedrick and his portentous piggy – which was lifted by crane onto a flatbed truck last week – will be departing for the desert today, Aug. 23. An anticipated crowd of 66,000 artsy thrill-seekers is expected to drop in for the long Labor Day weekend.

“At Burning Man, there’s so much creativity,” Tedrick says, while allowing that it does require a certain expanded sense of adventure to participate. “People get a little wild and crazy – and a lot of them do it naked. It’s a pretty wild place.”

Fortunately, Tedrick believes he’s readied Lord Snort for just about anything.

“I’ve had to learn the hard way,” he says. “Sculptures – even sculptures made of steel – can and will break if enough people climb on them. So now I over engineer everything, to make each one as sturdy as possible.”

Tedrick, a former ship’s rigger and welder, has been participating in the infamous alternative art festival on the Black Rock Desert playa for the last 11 years. His first Burning Man was in 2005, attending on what he now calls “a scouting mission.” Dazzled by the vibrancy and energy of the event, Tedrick was nevertheless unimpressed with most of the artwork.

“Some of it’s great,” he says. “A lot of it isn’t.”

For the following two Burning Man events, Tedrick built moderately ambitious pieces, all on his own dime, and shipped them to the festival, just to get his feet wet. Before the 2008 Burning Man, he applied for a grant with a plan to build an enormous pair of Icarus-like wings, mounted on a large, pivoting ring – which people could stand on or crouch in. Dubbed “Spread Eagle,” the proposed sculpture was immediately awarded a $10,000 grant and became a popular attraction at that year’s event.

“They were offering money for materials,” Tedrick explains. “They were eager to show work more that was kinetic and interactive.” At the time, he notes, with the economy in decline, there was not much work in California for sculptors specializing in monstrously large animals. “Burning Man,” he says, “was a chance to do anything I could imagine. It was a perfect fit.”

Every year since, Tedrick – usually “all on his own” – has dreamed up, engineered, and constructed another elaborate, visually stunning creation for Burning Man. Though grants continue to cover most of his material costs, he frequently sells the Burning Man creations after the festival, hoping to recoup some of his unpaid man-hours. That’s a good thing, when it happens, because the projects have been growing steadily more complex and time-consuming. The enormous butterfly sculpture he built in 2009 took 600 hours to build, and was subsequently purchased by the City of Reno. A massive, mysterious coyote built for the 2013 festival required 800 hours, and is now on display at Wilson Winery in Healdsburg.

Those projects have nothing on Lord Snort.

Construction began March 1 and, Tedrick estimates, the hungry hog has since gobbled up more than 1,000 hours of labor, using up just over $30,000 in raw materials. Some of those “materials,” Tedrick says, might seem a little familiar to longtime Sonoma residents.

“The City was recycling old galvanized lampposts, scrapping them,” he says. “They thought I might like them, so I bought them at scrap prices. Those lampposts are now incorporated into Lord Snort.”

All that extra steel will come in handy.

“At Burning Man, if you set up a sculpture, people are going to interact with it, in unpredictable ways,” Tedrick says. “They’re going to string hammocks and sleep on it. They’re going to hang upside down from it. They’re going to find ways to copulate on it. Anything goes.”

Before any of that can happen, of course, the sculpture has to get to Nevada. As he has in the past, Tedrick has hired a professional trucker, C&A trucking of Cotati. Asked if the porcine colossus will be covered up and hidden from view during his long journey to the desert, Tedrick laughs.

“Oh, no. They always ship it un-tarped,” he says. “Lord Snout will be fully exposed. I think the truckers enjoy it, because they do get a lot of attention.”

You can watch a dron's view of last year's Burning Man below:

Email David at david.templeton@sonomanews.com.