Martha Michael: Heavy metal artist Idelle Okman Tyzbir


She’s created a three-part series called “Visualization of Music,” and she owns three guitars and a piano. But the heavy metal in the repertoire of Idelle Okman Tyzbir is different than you think.

Tyzbir is a fine artist who likes working with copper, steel and wire, in conjunction with other mediums such as glass and wood, to create mixed-media sculptures. She is often referred to as “The Metal Wrestler.”

Idelle Tyzbir at Topanga Canyon Gallery next to her sculpture entitled “Shelter.” Courtesy photo

Symphony of sound

The metal music Tyzbir listens to is coming from the materials themselves.

“They have their own voices,” she says. “Copper is warm and flexible. Steel is pretty rigid and kind of ‘in your face.’ It’s more difficult to work with steel because it doesn’t want to bend, so you’ve really got to put a lot of heat into it to get it to do what it’s supposed to do.”

Sound like anyone you know? It’s an example of this artist’s skill – animating the materials she works with to make the invisible visible.

“I like the physicality of this demanding, hot, hard and dirty work,” Tyzbir’s website says. “It seems to fulfill my innate desire to build.”

A twist on Rosie the Riveter

While we’ve been looking around for strong female role models, we may have forgotten to look under the window of a welding helmet. It takes a strong female to do what Tyzbir does for a living – practically and figuratively.

“Working with metal, welding and the associated tools gives me a sense of power and strength,” Tyzbir says. “I believe that is the masculine aspect that draws me into the process. Beyond that, though, is my love for making metal have fluid, organic movement, which I find very feminine. A great combination, in my opinion!”

Using materials and techniques not usually associated with a woman, she says, is “emancipating.” The metal is a metaphor for the conflict between limits and freedom.

And if the medium is the message, Tyzbir’s work is Exhibit A. She can drive home strong messaging when necessary, such as an installation currently in the “Women at Work” exhibit at the Topanga Canyon Gallery. It’s a clothesline with torn, soiled clothing hanging from it, and it’s entitled “Airing out the Dirty Laundry.” It represents such destructive forces as child abuse, sex trafficking and abuse of power.

Idelle’s self-portrait entitled “Journey.” Courtesy photo

“Social evils are frequently hidden from view,” Tyzbir’s description reads. “It is imperative that we all play a part in seeing, reporting and preventing them.”

Her ‘twisting journey’

Idelle Tyzbir is a Valencia resident who reared her two daughters in Santa Clarita. She worked for Prudential for years, then taught art to elementary students in Newhall, because she had always loved painting. But one day she met two women showing their metal art in a local crafts fair and learned about classes at College of the Canyons.

Of course, Tyzbir followed suit. And one day, the student became the teacher. She has taught many classes at COC, as well as working with kids at TheARTree in Newhall and offering watercolor classes to adults through the Parks & Recreation Department.

Tyzbir has a mixed-media self-portrait she created in 2008 called “Journey,” or more completely, “My Twisting Journey Through Life,” which is 2 feet tall by 14 inches by 12 inches and made of steel, glass, wood, plexiglass and copper wire. Looking from the front you see the whole person with her complexities, and when peering in through the sides you see her compartmentalization.

Art that connects

If you ever felt for artists who were introverted, work-alone types, you can stop worrying about Tyzbir. She’s talkative, engaged, and she is known throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

Last fall she designed a 7-foot by 9-foot scorpion that hangs on the wall, a signature piece, for Scorpion Marketing in Valencia. And you may have seen her 15-foot-tall “Crossroads at Iron Horse Trailhead,” an art installation for the City of Santa Clarita.

She also joins forces with people who share her passion, such as the Santa Clarita Artists Association and her colleagues in Topanga Canyon. The public is invited to experience the artwork of Tyzbir and others at this year’s Topanga Canyon Studio Tour on Saturday and Sunday, June 2-3, 2018. You can spend the weekend driving through the canyon to various venues where their artwork is on display. And on Saturday night you can join them for a reception and silent auction at the gallery from 5-8 p.m. If you’re interested, you can call 310-455-7909 or visit

Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal and serves as editor for three local publications. She has been writing professionally for decades and is the author of “Canyon Country” by Arcadia Publishing.

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