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“I just get started doing what I know and figure out the surest as I go along.”
Barbie Parsons, Welder from Barbie The Welder,
Metal sculpture design & creation
What made you choose welding as a career, which is a highly male dominated segment?
Seeing the woman welding the giant angel wing sculpture in the movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks spoke to my soul and I knew from that moment that I needed to be a metal sculptor. It was only a 15 second clip in the movie but it has shaped the last 11.5 years of my life.
Could you brief us on your journey so far into welding?
At the time of finding welding I was unhappily married to a man who wouldn’t support his family and we were living on the $10,000 a year. I was able to earn hauling scrap metal and we were living in the projects. Against my husband’s wish I saved for nine months to get the $1200 it would cost to go to school for a six-month welding program at our local BOCES school. From that program I was hired at a local custom fabrication shop and worked in the sheet-metal department for five years. In the first four years, I worked there, I divorced my husband, fixed my credit, bought a house for the garage, and then saved up for welders and equipment for the garage so I could start welding art. Over the next year I worked full time at the custom fab shop and part time at home making art after work and on the weekends. On September 1, 2014 I quit the job, as I loved very much to be a full time metal sculptor.
As a full time artist, I have failed my way to success. Along the way I have made many business mistakes, had many hard lessons, and worked thousands of hours but going back to work for someone else was never an option for me. So as I was teaching myself how to create art, I also taught myself how to run a successful business with heart. To date, I have created sculptures for businesses and clients in 15 different countries, written three books that sell worldwide, and teach people to weld art through my YouTube Channel which is viewed by people in 53 countries, all from my one car garage.
Could you quickly take us to your qualification background?
6 months welding education at BOCES in Elmira, NY
5 years working experience in the sheet metal fabrication department of Cameron Manufacturing and Design
I earned my Journeyman in Iron Plate and Sheet Metal
How much of total experience do you hold?
I have 11.5 years of total welding experience.
Any welding processes you specialize into?
MIG and TIG Stainless, steel, and aluminum
Could you please share your experience of some mega project you worked upon?
Last year, I was commissioned to create two sculptures for Harley Davidson, one to celebrate HOG (Harley Owners Group) anniversary and one to celebrate Harley Davidson’s 115th anniversary. The HOG sculpture was my first masterpiece sculpture that I created live. During Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis South Dakota, I worked from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm for 7 days to create the sculpture and then I presented it to Harley Davidson on stage during the Jackyl concert at Full Throttle Saloon, the worlds largest biker bar, in front of thousands of people! Three weeks later in Milwaukee Wisconsin at Harley Davidson’s 115th anniversary, I presented Harley Davidson the second sculpture which I had made at home. I got to go back up on stage in front of thousands of people to present the sculpture!
Your current project?
I am currently creating a sculpture titled ‘Bridge To The Future’ for Weiler Abrasives. It is a three foot long futuristic bridge with a man standing on one end looking towards the other side. The bridge will be lit up with neon lights to add to the futuristic theme.
When on site, what are the key points you follow during welding for any project? Any suggestions.
Safety, vision, pride in craftsmanship, and joy are the four points that are very important while I’m working. Safety while cutting, grinding, and welding. Vision to create things that have never been done before. Pride in craftsmanship ensures that my clients get the best possible sculpture I am capable of creating and allows me to feel great at the end of each day. Joy knowing, I am doing what truly feeds my heart and soul.
Please share some of the interesting anecdotes during your career?
During my second year, I was a full time artist. I had been making several sculptures out of horseshoes when a friend volunteered to take a couple pictures of them for me. One of the pictures taken was of a horseshoe wine rack that ended up getting over 12,000 likes on Pinterest (how I’m not sure!) A few weeks later I get an email from a publisher asking me if I could write a book about how to weld horseshoe art, which I sincerely thought it was a joke! I responded that I was capable of writing a book, still thinking it was a joke, but they sent me a check and said write it! I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book so I had to Google it! In August 2017 my first book called ‘How To Weld Horseshoe Crafts’ was published and is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, several online retailers, and Tractor Supply!
What is your say on health and safety in welding? How do you consider the same when on job?
I always think about my health and safety while I’m working. If I was to hurt myself I would not be able to weld anymore and that is unacceptable to me!
What kind of challenges do you come across and how do you manage to cope up with the same?
Each time I create a sculpture for a client it is a challenge because no two sculptures are alike and I’m self taught as an artist. In art as well as any fabrication, there is a tremendous amount of problem solving involved. I just get started doing what I know and figure out the surest as I go along.
Have you anytime faced gender discrimination on site, as the stream is male dominated?
I dealt with sexism in auto mechanics (my chosen career out of high school) and left after seven years of frustration of not being seen for my skills. In welding, I have been very fortunate to not have faced any sexism. The company I worked, treated me with respect as a valuable employee.
What are your future plans?
Today, I am in the process of writing my fourth book. I am creating an online school for artists, teaching them how to be successful as business owners and thrive, and am pushing myself as an artist to create larger and more elaborate sculptures I love. I am in the process of creating my own product line and I am saving up to purchase land to build a larger shop.
Closing message, especially to the female.
In the beginning when I decided to be a metal sculptor, I had no garage, no experience of welding, no art education, and no business experience. There was no evidence anywhere that said that this was a good idea and I’ll be successful, in fact all signs pointed to this is going to be a huge failure. It doesn’t matter what your background, education, or starting point is, you can do anything you decide to do. Find something you love and get laser focused on making it happen no matter what!! I’m stunned by the experiences and opportunities I’ve had because I chose to relentlessly pursue my crazy desire to become a metal sculptor! Today, I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams and if I can do it with all those odds stacked against me anyone can!