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West Valley City >> Adam Rees has always dabbled in art.

At the age of 14, he was airbrushing motorcycle helmets for friends. And he has tinkered with drawing, painting and making collages.

But in recent years, the 32-year-old West Valley City carpentry contractor has hit upon an art form he hopes will let him quit his day job. Rees creates animal sculptures covered in a multi-colored mosaic of small, clay "millefiori" medallions.

"I do animal sculptures, with a really wild, energetic mosaic," Rees says. "I fell in love with [millefiori]. It's so intricate."

Millefiori is a combination of the Italian words "mille" (thousand) and "fiori" (flowers). As the name suggests, the ancient technique — originally used to decorate glassware — produces a design that is repeated many times.

The medallions are cut from long cylindrical "canes," which Rees makes by layering parallel strips of colored polymer clay to create a cross-sectional image.

The cane, which begins as a squarish block, is carefully pulled and stretched, almost like a piece of taffy, to the desired length. As the cane lengthens, the size of the cross-section pattern shrinks.

Medallions bearing the identical pattern can then be cut from the cane, much like slicing up a salami.

Rees — who has a talent for thinking in three dimensions — produces canes with intricate images of flowers, trees, birds, fish, whales, sunsets and abstract patterns. The finished medallions give crazy-quilt skins to his sometimes life-sized sculptures.

"The hardest part of the whole medium is learning to make the canes," said Rees. "You have to deconstruct it and think about putting it together."

He hopes the combination of sculpture and millefiori will appeal to art collectors. Rees has sold a life-sized fox for $2,800. A small bison was purchased by a buyer from The Netherlands for $900. And an abstract twisted square sculpture went to a buyer in China for about $400.

A number of Rees' works — including a half-scale mountain goat — are on display at the Bison Bronze Gallery on San Juan Island in Washington state. The Northwest gallery owner has requested an otter as his next project.

Demand for his sculptures has increased, and he now spends about 30 percent of his time on his art and 70 percent at his day job, nudging closer to his dream of being a full-time artist.

Rees is currently working on an octopus, which he estimates will require about 100 hours to complete — not counting the making of the canes — and which he hopes to sell for $5,000.

Editor's note: A version of this story recently appeared in the West Valley edition of CloseUp. —

More art

To see more work by artist Adam Rees:

Visit Utah Artist Hands, 61 W. 100 South, in Salt Lake City.