Southern Utah News Articles
Bill Key and The Phoenix
Long-time Kanab resident and accomplished metal sculpture artist, Bill Key, passed away on February 10, 2009, but not before leaving a legacy of outstanding artworks scattered throughout the area, including the gates to Angel’s Rest at Best Friends.
“But his passion was fantasy art,” said his wife of nearly 40 years, Rainell Key. “He loved to imagine all sorts of other-worldly images. It took him away from the everyday world and his sculptures reflected his visions and allowed an outlet for his expression of them,” recalled Rainell.
Key was named Kanab’s Artist of the Year for 2009, and Rainell accepted the posthumously-presented award by then Mayor Kim Lawson last fall.
I first met Bill in 2005 after seeing his artwork at his home in Kanab and satisfying my curiosity about its originator. Of all his exquisitely-handcrafted artworks, my favorite was a large piece entitled “The Phoenix.”
“The Phoenix was Bill’s first sculptured artwork. Before this, he was doing gates and other types of commercial work. He worked on this sculpture for over a year,” said Rainell.
Gene Mitchell related how Bill would spend many hours a day for weeks on end in Mitchell’s Fredonia garage cutting out the hundreds of feathers he used in the bird’s construction. “He had everything pretty well figured out in his head regarding the size and shape of those feathers for different parts of the body and wings, and he was dedicated to the project,” related Mitchell.
Long-time friend and a welder himself, Scott Dunn, told of how Key didn’t have a welding shop of his own back then, and would avail himself of various opportunities to piece together his artwork. “He was a creative and resourceful man,” stated Dunn.
Key moved to Fredonia in 1966 when he was 17 years old after his father took a job supervising the construction of Hwy 389 between Short Creek (Colorado City) and Fredonia.
Rainell reminisced, “I first saw Bill at the airport in 1968 when then presidential candidate Barry Goldwater visited northern Arizona. I was attending school in Kanab and later heard from a girlfriend that Bill favored redheads. So I had that going for me.”
The Keys married in 1969 and moved to Phoenix where Bill gained training and experience in the welding trade. After three years there, Bill had enough of the big city and yearned to return to his beloved red rock country and the people he cared about. The couple moved back for good in 1972.
Bill worked for Grand Canyon Expeditions and Waterman Welding before starting his own welding business and was highly regarded by everyone he worked for.
Key completed “The Phoenix,” which has a wingspan of 7-1/2 feet and stands five feet tall, in 1992 and it’s been sitting on a short perch at the Key residence since then.
Remembering my thoughts after first seeing the sculpture, I asked Rainell, after the 2009 award ceremony, if she would consider donating the sculpture to the city so that it might be placed in a prominent public location for Kanab’s residents and visitors alike to enjoy viewing. Rainell and her family pondered the proposition for several months before deciding to donate the marvelous sculpture to Kanab, the city Bill so loved.
While the Keys were making their decision, I approached the Kanab City Council and Mayor Nina Laycook about utilizing the west side of the former Kanab library and presently the Heritage Museum and Juniper Art Gallery building in the center of Kanab as a permanent site for “The Phoenix.” This structure was finished by the Works Progress Administration in 1940 and is on the National Historic Register, assuring it will be preserved, barring unforeseen disaster.
With the blessing of the Heritage Museum board, museum curator Deanna Glover and councilman Tony Chatterley, responsible for the Heritage Museum, and councilman Ed Meyer, covering the Variety Arts Council, the location was secured for the new home of “The Phoenix.”
The ‘hands on’ work then began. The entire Phoenix Project, as I began calling it, was completed by individuals and companies donating their time and materials.
The City of Kanab, although willing to help with the effort, did not have to spend any time or resources toward the completion of this project. In other words, it cost taxpayers nothing.
Bill’s son, Kevin Key, welded a reinforcing bracket to the supporting base to further stabilize the 200-pound bird.
Roger Smith and Larry Casebolt, owners and operators of Silver Arrow Stone, donated the heavy steel casing pipe that elevates “The Phoenix” seven feet into the air. They also donated a beautiful slab of exceptionally hard golden-hued Arizona sandstone as a plaque that Smith will engrave to honor Bill Key’s work.
Scott Dunn, owner of Waterman Welding, and his crew formed the base and top plates and welded all the support pieces together. In addition, they helped relocate the sculpture and Dunn was a valuable consultant.
Kaneco’s Arlon Chamberlain donated and poured the cement that anchors the entire structure in the earth.
Jeff Vaughn and his crew and equipment from Garkane Energy proved invaluable during the relocation of “The Phoenix” from the Key residence to its new home downtown.
It is with deep appreciation of all of your efforts that I thank you!
The dedication of Bill Key’s “The Phoenix” will occur this Friday, August 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Heritage Museum across from Parry Lodge during Western Legends. It will be a very short ceremony open to the public, and all are welcome to attend. Those attending Western Legends this year should avail themselves of the opportunity to view this wonderful addition to Kanab’s heritage.