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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 10 October 2018  

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Bill Radford

  The urge to create — no age limit
  By Bill Radford

   Keith Chew doesn't call himself an artist.
   
   "I just say I do artist stuff. I always figure, to call yourself an artist, you need some kind of formal training."
   
   People, though, who buy his "artist stuff" –- from doors to backsplashes to wall art, all done in metal –- no doubt regard him as an artist.
   
   Chew, who lives in the Peyton area with his wife, Nancy, followed an unlikely path to his career. He was born in London. His mother was British; his father, who was Chinese, died when Chew was 2 years old.
   
   "At age 15, my mother said, 'I've done my bit, you're on your own,’” he said. So he left home and traveled the world for 10 years. He visited almost 40 countries, working minimum wage jobs — digging ditches, working in hotels, whatever he could find.
   
   "I eventually ended up in Norway, and I fell in love with the country,” Chew said. He worked sundry jobs, then became a certified ski instructor. It was that career choice that brought him to the United States; he answered a newspaper ad for ski instructors in America for a guaranteed $80 a week -– twice what he was making in Norway.
   
   He said he worked in the Chicago area at "one of the little rope-tow ski areas with a little bump," then managed a ski area in New Mexico. In 1974, he moved to Denver, where he met Nancy, an emergency room nurse, through video dating. After just three weeks, Chew said, "She said let's get married." (Nancy has her own intriguing life story, including being a competitive figure skater and later a well-known painter, Chew said.)
   
   In Denver, Chew worked at a store that sold furniture with Scandinavian designs. He then operated his own Scandinavian furniture store for a few years before opening a studio in downtown Denver, where he and Nancy designed furniture.
   
   Over 10 years or so, with no experience, they designed "several thousand one-of a-kind pieces," he said — in all styles, from contemporary to Southwestern to Art Deco.
   
   "I'm a big believer that everybody's capable of doing something, if they really are willing to take a risk," Chew said.
   
   His metal work began with doors when an interior designer asked him to incorporate a piece of metal into a door. More requests came: Can you put a bit of color in it? Can you put an impression in it? Chew figures he has done about 300 doors.
   
   Much of his work, such as doors and backsplashes, is what he calls functional art, "because it serves a purpose." He works mostly with copper, but also uses titanium, stainless steel and bronze. Chew developed techniques to infuse color into the metal. He found, by accident for example, that titanium turns a "fabulous blue color" when it is heated and then cooled. "It creates the greatest illusion of water," he said.
   
   Needing more space for his work, he and Nancy moved from Denver to the Peyton area 18 years ago. "We lived in southeast Denver in a small house, and there wasn't enough room," Chew said. In Denver, he was "booked solid" with architects and designers. Those contacts faded after moving; now his work is usually sold through commissions and art shows. He'll be at the Pine Forest Spring Show & Sale, put on by the Tri-Lakes Women's Club, in April at Lewis Palmer High School in Monument. He typically gets more commissions out of that show than any other, he said. "Lewis Palmer has always been fabulous."
   
   Chew said he never repeats a design. "The first time I do a design, it's exciting and fun. ... There's no excitement in doing something the second time."
   
   At age 77, the inspiration, the urge to create, is always there. "I don't know where it comes from."
  
Keith Chew with one of his works of art. “What I like to do is create the illusion of depth,” he said. Photo by Bill Radford
 
Keith Chew stands next to a metal door he created. Photo by Bill Radford
 
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