A 25-foot-tall steel owl that shoots flames out of its wings will hover over Foundry Plaza in Loveland on Feb. 10 during the annual Sweetheart Festival. Along with the owl, a corral of fiery entertainment will be on display at the base of the owl, including fire spinners and flaming Cupid, a smaller fire sculpture that has been featured at previous Sweetheart Festivals. The fiery spectacles are courtesy of Loveland-based artist Drew Hsu, who goes by Torch, his wife, Monica Hsu, and his “merry band of misfits” who helped create the five-ton steel sculpture after years of planning and six months of construction.
Also at this year’s Sweetheart Festival, Torch will use a metal helmet with a 5,000-degree glass torch as the mouthpiece to blow glass figurines to hand out to festival attendees. The performance persona is called Torchmouth and has allowed the artist to bring his enormous skillset into the public eye.
Torch moved to Loveland in 2023, but he’s been working out of Loveland CreatorSpace since it’s inception in 2014. He does his concept and design work at Artworks, located next door, and fabricates his creations, including the owl, in the metal shop at CreatorSpace.
The owl was most recently on display at Burning Man in the Nevada Desert in August 2023. Named “Māo Tóu Yīng” (Chinese for owl), the sculpture was featured on the Esplanade, the main thoroughfare attendees pass through while at the festival.
“It was a really prestigious placement,” Monica said. “People like us don’t usually pull something like that off, but because of our community, we were able to pull multiple rabbits out of our hat and make it happen. People really responded to it and we got all of the ooohhhs and aaaahs while we were there.”
Over $30,000 in grant money coupled with local donations and in-kind materials from Metal Distributors helped fund construction of the owl. “When we applied for grants, our mentors warned us, ‘don’t feel bad. You’ll apply for 60 and you’ll maybe get one grant.’ Well, we applied for three and all three grants gave us more than we asked for. It was over $30K in grant money. We were amazed.”
While the structural pieces of the sculpture were constructed using new steel, the owl itself was created using recycled pieces of metal from old cars and more that Torch and Monica sourced from the Swetsville Zoo, a now closed whimsical roadside attraction filled with metal sculptures made by metal artist Bill Swets, an important mentor in Torch’s life. Both Torch and Monica lived at the Swetsville Zoo, which is located near Fort Collins, for years and the owl is an ode to Swets who is a dear friend, she said.
“Owls have a deep spiritual connection to many cultures, and we love to hear from our audience about what it means to them as well,” Monica said. “Freedom, wisdom, death, spirituality, a harbinger of good and bad, we’ve heard it all. There is a female form inside the owl that can be exposed by opening the owl’s body. The contrast of creation versus destruction was something we focused on. This isn’t a happy-go-lucky sculpture. He’s here to remind those at festivals that when you go against nature and creation, there will be hell to pay.” An incomplete version featuring just the structural steel and the girl was displayed at Apogaea, a regional Colorado Burning Man held last June in Southern Colorado.
“They funded our new fire system as well as gave us an opportunity to test run the setup process before we were stranded in the desert two months later,” Monica said. But beyond trying things out, Monica and Torch were thrilled to show supporters what they’d helped create. “It meant the most to us to show it (in Colorado), as we were able to show our mentors and community what their support has done for us personally,” she said.
Following its time at the Sweetheart Festival, Monica and Torch aren’t entirely sure what the future holds for the owl. One idea includes transporting it on a school bus they own so it can be a mobile sculpture party bus of sorts. They’ve also considered taking the sculpture to regional Burning Man festivals in California, Texas and other locations around the country, but the transport fees are cost prohibitive if done one by one. However, if multiple festivals can split the transport costs, the Owl could possibly travel in a circuit to each festival, Monica said.
“We have also entertained the idea of selling it, but it’s not quite refined to the point we’d like it to be yet,” Monica said. “It’s ever evolving.”
About the Loveland Sweetheart Festival
Celebrate all things LOVE in the Sweetheart City at the annual Loveland Sweetheart Festival, returning on Feb. 10, 2024. During this free celebration in Downtown Loveland, enjoy live ice carving, art demonstrations, musical and dance performances on the community stage, and romantic headliners Spinphony at the Historic Rialto Theater. The Kids Zone features oversized building bricks, outdoor games and a community mural. Don’t miss the Tunnel of Love, food trucks, The Palace of Sweets, and the Sweetheart Classic 4-mile race. Make sure to catch the Little Miss Valentine and Little Mister Cupid Contests at the Rialto Theater.