A few years ago Charles O'Neil was displaying his work at the Buyers Market of American Craft in Philadelphia, when his wire sculptures of animals and human figures caught the eye of world renowned shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. Weitzman, impressed with the sculptures, approached O’Neil and asked him to sculpt wire shoes for their corporate art collection. O’Neil was delighted to take on the challenge.
Designing a shoe sculpture for Weitzman added a new dimension to O’Neil's work. Aside from exposing his work to a broader audience, it also inspired him to create a series of shoe sculptures, adding glass beads to the wire structures. O’Neil's shoe sculptures turned many heads as they appeared in art shows and galleries across the Haliburton Highlands and Ontario.
When Barb Bolin retired as principal of Fleming College, Haliburton Campus, and the Haliburton School of The Arts in 2007, after 35 years with the College, her friends and coworkers donated to a fund to help buy a sculpture for the Forest in her honour. Bolin was asked to choose which artist would be commissioned to create the sculpture, and it wasn't long before her mind turned to Charles O’Neil and his brilliant shoes.
Bolin believed that O’Neil would be a good choice for many reasons. He had already contributed to the Sculpture Forest with his piece Embracing Eos, which has delighted many visitors, so she knew his work would 'fit in' well. O’Neil also lives in the Highlands, and Bolin was interested in commissioning work from a local artist. She loved the fact that O’Neil's shoe sculptures are bright, bold, and colourful, and Bolin wanted to add an extra dash of colour to the Sculpture Forest.
O’Neil gladly accepted the commission, and began researching for the project. Deciding to create a shoe of grand proportions, and realizing that the sculpture would have to endure the harsh elements of the Highlands, he crafted his sculpture out of steel rods, stainless steel wiring, and large fire glazed glass beads from the Czech Republic and faceted clear beads from China.
Fire and Ice: A Really Big Shoe was installed in the Sculpture Forest in the spring of 2009.