Which comes first, the artist or the welder? That’s one of the many topics I get to explore during conversations with metal artists for Artist’s Gallery each issue.
Sometimes I like to go back and reread old Artist’s Gallery articles just because of what was said and how it’s stayed with me over the years. Each story is as unique and memorable as the person it is about, but a few have managed to stand out in my mind. The one thing is clear, at least in the nearly six years I’ve been writing these stories: Metal artists are either artists who progress to working with metal, or welders who, for whatever reason, decide to take a leap of faith and try their hand at art.
I’d say it’s split down the middle, and I must admit that they are both equally interesting and compelling approaches. I like the idea of an artist branching out and embracing an industrial process to help facilitate something creative and free-flowing.
Like Pamela Olin did (Sept./Oct. 2009). Olin loved metal’s forgiving nature and the fact that it allowed her to work in three dimensions. She became so engrossed in welding that she even taught two noncredit classes at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., Welding for Women and Make Your Own Garden Sculpture.
Or Randall Kramer (Nov./Dec. 2007) who left his job on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade to build custom furniture using GMAW and GTAW to join the steel before merging it with wood or other materials for aesthetically pleasing and functional pieces.
And then there’s Ray Carrington (July/Aug. 2011]) a retired math teacher who, even though he insisted that he was not an artist, has fashioned hundreds of incredible sculptures honoring the railroad era using scrap he found at an abandoned saw mill in Hilt, Calif.
But I’ll admit, it never gets old talking to welders who, through encouragement or even chance, discover an artistic streak that they never knew they possessed.
Stories like Eric Lankford’s (March/April 2007), of Dickson, Tenn., a propane manager by day and scrap metal artist by night. He began welding together found objects at the prompting of his son, an artist.
Or Joe Mongan (May/June 2007), a repair welder who, by accident, started a metal art career and has since generated quite a following in the Rockford, Ill., area. You can see Mongan’s story highlighted in the latest episode of Practical Welding Television, www.thefabricator.com/pwtv.
So which does come first, the artist or the welder? I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters is listening to the voice inside your head telling you to give it a go. As Ray Carrington said, “You don’t have to have a great talent to do art, apparently. There’s a lot of people out there with tremendously good welding skill that probably should consider welding at least one piece.”