Driving into Libby, the reason behind the town’s slogan, “City of Eagles,” is obvious. Massive eagles are everywhere – in backyards, on polls and even on the archway over downtown. Together, there are more than 25 of the iron birds in Libby and artist Todd Berget created all of them.
From inside his shop at the end of First Street, Berget has made more than 50 eagles, ranging from six-feet wide to more than 40 feet. Now he’s setting his sights on creating the world’s largest iron eagle that will measure 50 feet from wing tip to wing tip.
“I just love (making eagles),” Berget said in his cluttered shop last week. “I have friends who like to hunt and I like to build stuff.”
Berget was born and raised in Libby and has been an artist almost all his life, painting murals or sculpting things with metal. He paid to go to college, the University of Montana – Western in Dillon, where he got a teaching degree, by working in the mills and as a logger during the summer. Today, Berget is a teacher at Libby’s alternative high school, but during his free time he can be found welding in his shop.
In the summer of 1997, Berget and a friend designed and sculpted their first iron eagle. Berget said his friend was going through a tough time and was looking for a project to stay busy.
“The rest is history,” Berget said.
Since then, Berget has made eagles, fish, bears, spiders and even fishing rods. Berget usually starts a project with a metal post and makes a frame. From there, he cuts and welds wings and feathers on it. Berget says he doesn’t keep track of how much time each project takes, but one of his largest took less than a month.
Berget’s eagles sell for a couple thousand dollars apiece, depending on size. Although the eagles help supplement his teacher’s salary, Berget said he’s not looking to get rich.
“If I was greedy I’d sell them for more, but I really enjoy what I do,” he said. “You have a feeling you’ve left your mark. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it’s neat to leave something behind that you know can’t just be washed away.”
Many of Berget’s eagles can be found around Libby, but more than two dozen have been purchased and displayed around the country, as far away as Michigan. Last week, he was putting the finishing touches on an eagle that would be shipped to New Orleans.
But Berget’s largest project is yet to come. This year, he hopes to build the world’s largest iron eagle, which will have a 50-foot wingspan. He came up with the idea when he discovered that Dollywood in Tennessee had the largest and that someone in Canada built it.
“Why have someone from Canada build America’s national bird?” he asked.
The Libby Chamber of Commerce is hoping to display the bird in downtown Libby and is raising $60,000 to pay for it.
But even when the world’s largest eagle is completed, Berget says he still plans on building birds for years to come.
“It’s something people enjoy and it makes you smile,” he said. “(And) it gets me out of the house, so my wife likes that.”
For more information visit Berget’s website at https://www.sites.google.com/site/customironeaglesmt
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