Dore Capitani has a wonderful sense of humor that is no more evident than in his “OUCH!” sculpture, complete with a crashed motorcycle as part of the piece, located in front of his property along Highway 243 between Idyllwild and Mountain Center. The installation is among the most recognizable, and likely the most viewed on the Hill.
“I put it there for grins,” said Capitani. “Had I been thinking I would have had a motor on the wheel so the wheel would still be turning but I didn’t think of it until after it was up.”
Since the display has been up, a motorcycle wreck hasn’t occurred on that infamously traffic-collision-stretch of highway, according to Capitani. “Before that there were a couple of guys that ended up right in our driveway here,” Capitani said. “I can’t take any credit for it, but it’s how it has worked out so far.”
Born in Kenosha, Wisc., most of Capitani’s early career was spent in manufacturing, working first for a packaging manufacturer and later for a glass-container manufacturer. “I was an industrial mechanic for Stone Container and Anchor Glass,” he said. “That’s where I learned to work with metal. I barely made it out of high school and I haven’t had any art education at all. I’m mechanically inclined so I was able to make a living in [manufacturing] plants.”
But the work, combined with a stressful personal life, took its toll on Capitani. “I had terrible migraine headaches and I used to carry a card in my wallet that said, ‘If involved in an accident, just let me die.’ When you’re married to an opponent, it just f—- you up. You can quote me on that.”
A background in the metal industry gave Capitani a working knowledge of the tools that eventually became an important part of his trade as a metal artist. After a failed marriage and a career-ending employer relocation to Mexico as a result of NAFTA, Capitani was ready for a change in his life, both personal and professional. “The secret is to learn as much as you can in every job you ever do. I always worked in factories so I got a million-dollar education that I wouldn’t give a penny to relive,” said Capitani.
It was a chance at love that brought Capitani to Idyllwild after his marriage ended. An old flame contacted him and the pair agreed to meet in Idyllwild. While it wasn’t a love connection for the couple, Capitani did find love, a love for Idyllwild. “Things didn’t work out with the old girlfriend, but it sure worked out with Idyllwild,” he smiled.
A few years after his move to Idyllwild, Capitani met Trish Tuley, whom he married. “She’s from Tennessee and was waiting for me when I got here,” he laughed. The couple was married in a Crow Indian marriage ceremony. “Trish belongs to Local Color, the singing group, and we had Sam and Debbie [Crowell] there. We walked in the National Forest and they sang,” Capitani said. “Now, the five best years of my life have passed.”
Capitani owns eight acres with a view of sloping hills and statuesque pines. “This property was almost to the dollar what I got from my somewhat less-than-half-of the divorce settlement,” he said. In July 2013, Capitani dodged a bullet when the Mountain Fire roared within inches of his property, devouring everything surrounding it. “The fire couldn’t have gotten much closer. We stood in the driveway and watched trees like this [points to a large pine] go up in seconds.”
The couple had returned from a picnic on Black Mountain about 10 minutes before the road closure order took effect. “Fire trucks were everywhere. We had two big tanks of water and I gave them 5,000 gallons of water.” In preparation for future threats to his property, Capitani has a plan. “I’m going to make a fire station here. I have a pump and I’m going to make a little house for that stuff,” he said.
Capitani’s art garden is home to an impressive collection of metal sculptures spread over several acres. Visitors to the garden are treated to a relaxing walk throughout the property, complete with benches and shade trees for guests’ comfort. Asked how many sculptures are in the expansive art garden, Capitani again displayed his wit, “If I knew how to count I wouldn’t have this job.”
As Capitani’s talent evolves, so do his sculptures. Currently, Capitani’s fascination is with “swirly” metal and powder-coating. “The powder coating just kicked the horizons out so far. I am actually in heaven now.” Powder coating gives the metal texture and color, and also prevents rust; the coating is durable and can last outside for years. Deep colors and fades require several coats.
Two galleries exist on the property with work from Capitani, Tuley, a photographer, and several local artists. Adorning the outside walls of each gallery are a variety of metal sculptures Capitani created celebrating his sense of humor, like the “stupid” and “ignorance” shields. “When you have the shield of stupid, nothing can touch you. You’re invulnerable,” he said.
Walking along his art path, Capitani pointed to a piece and said with a laugh, “This is my current favorite. It’s one I’m not disgusted with.”
Most of his work comes via word of mouth, drive-by visits and his website, www.doresmountainartgarden.com. Commissions are a large part of Capitani’s work. “Mainly I do maybe 80 percent commission work, custom gates, custom doors, railings, those kinds of things,” Capitani said.
“This was meant to be. All it takes is 30 years of depression in the Midwest,” he laughed. “It’s heaven here. I’m the happiest man on the Hill.”