By days he’s a mild-mannered custodian, keeping things clean and in working order for the schools of the Western Dubuque Community School District. But anytime an artistic need arises, Dyersville resident Clete Urbain is at-the-ready, armed with just an active imagination and his trusty welding tools.
Urbain is the owner of Urbain Welding in Dyersville, and has been in that business for about 30 years. In addition, he began working as a night-shift custodian for the district 16 years ago before moving up to the day shift.
A great deal of his unique artistic vision is on display at Cascade Elementary School, where it can be enjoyed in the school’s entryway, main office and especially, in the CES Literacy Garden.
For Urbain, his foray into fine art stems from his personal perspective, and he definitely sees things around him differently. “I’ve always dabbled with the artwork,” he said. “People bring me drawings and designs and I fabricate what they’ve seen.”
Owning the welding shop provides Urbain with a palette of materials and all the “brushes” he might need. “It’s just stuff I have laying around the shop from other repairs and what-not,” said Urbain. “It’s all low-dollar items. Every piece of scrap can be turned into something new.”
Part of that re-purposing philosophy is genetic, and comes from Urbain’s upbringing on a Farley farm. “My mother was artistic and dad was creative,” he said. “When you’re on the farm you build stuff out of nothing. You see something and think, ‘let’s turn it into something different.’”
Administration at CES gave Urbain free rein when it came to what went into its Literacy Garden.
“They left the door wide open for me,” the artist said. “The only individual piece they asked me for was if I could make a Cougar. A twinkle came up in my eye and I said, ‘Yeah, I think I could make something like that.”
His other garden pieces include a dog, a pair of kittens and even a butterfly.
Each work might begin with a similar creative spark, but after the welding and cutting sparks fly Urbain is left in a similar position as artists from all mediums — hoping to find that feeling of the project turning out the way he first envisioned it.
“I see the flaws in everything,” Urbain said. “Every artist has their own point of view and what something looks like to them. Everybody has their own imagination, and they can turn it into anything they believe it is.”
The staff and students at CES recognize it as extremely creative art, but Urbain said the ability to create it is not that unique. “The talent is with everyone, it’s just a matter of how you want to pull it out of yourself.”