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Making Art Out of Scraps of Metal

  • Ted Landphair

Agora, a procession of 106 headless and armless cast-iron sculptures at the south end of Grant Park in Chicago, was designed by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.

Agora, a procession of 106 headless and armless cast-iron sculptures at the south end of Grant Park in Chicago, was designed by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz.

Some people get an urge and they relax making art out of bits of the stuff

Most works of art - paintings, sculptures, artistic jewelry - are created for a collector or patrons who visit a gallery. The artist makes something, and someone else buys it and takes it home.

Others create large public art - sculptures and statues in plazas and parks, or murals on the sides of buildings. A government agency, corporation, or wealthy individual pays for these oversized pieces and displays them for everyone to enjoy. The Michigan Labor Legacy Monument in Detroit was sculpted in 2001 by David Barr and Sergio DeGiusti.

The Michigan Labor Legacy Monument in Detroit was sculpted in 2001 by David Barr and Sergio DeGiusti.

Charlotte, North Carolina, for instance, is so full of great new artwork that it's considered one of the trendiest cities in the land. And the old city of Chicago is so committed to public art that every Spring, helicopters swoop down along the Lake Michigan shoreline and drop off huge pieces of art. In the fall, the choppers come back and pick them up again.

A lot of public art - including some statues and many abstract sculptures - is created by what are called metal artists. That's a fancy term for welders who make art out of all kinds of metal.

Some do it as a living. Others who have ordinary jobs do it for fun, relaxation, and to put a few extra bucks in their pockets. This giant Childhood Express wagon in a Spokane, Washington, park serves as a children's slide. It was created by Ken Spiering.

This giant Childhood Express wagon in a Spokane, Washington, park serves as a children's slide. It was created by Ken Spiering.

On weekends in New Orleans, for instance, all kinds of people come together in an old warehouse, where they busy themselves with welding torches, turning raw and ragged pieces of steel and aluminum, copper and tin - even gold - into works of art.

Not just New Orleans' famous wrought-iron balconies and fences but also exuberant metal Mardi Gras decorations, eccentric advertising signs, even bizarre metal headboards for beds. One public-relations executive who relaxes with a welding torch, making picture frames, candlesticks, and other smaller pieces, calls the experience her mental floss.

By no means does every art welder's creation turn out to be a work of art. There are many mistakes and failures. That's why the slogan of the metal-art warehouse in New Orleans is, Metals bent, hearts broken, egos mended.

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