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A canvas of a different type: P.C. welding students become artists
by Phyllis Van Holland
Amazing things happen to metal when it is put in the hands of an artist and the artist also happens to be a welder. At Peninsula College, three welding students are channeling their technical and creative talents into breathtaking pieces of art and redefining welding as a career.
Although still a first-year student in the Peninsula College Welding Program, Mike Tade of Sequim already is making a name for himself on the peninsula and beyond as an artist. Chances are you’ve seen his work if you have been to 7 Cedars Casino, Dockside Grill, Joyful Noise, Jose's Famous Salsa, Hardy's Market and Batson Enterprises in Sequim or the Heatherton Gallery in the Landing Mall in Port Angeles ― beautiful renderings in burnished metal of leaping salmon, trout and other Pacific Northwest wildlife that capture the spirit of the peninsula's landscape and the wildlife he’s honoring with his work.
Tade recently started his own company, Burnishing Creativity, and hopes to make a living doing his metal sculptures, welding repairs and custom metal art, from signs to logos, when he finishes his Peninsula College AAS degree in welding. He’s already got a good start on realizing his goal: In just a few short months, he’s sold more than 50 pieces and is working on others that he plans to donate to the Shipley Center in Sequim for a silent auction they are having at the end of May.
Although he quickly is becoming known for his evocative creations of salmon and trout, Tade says he also does a lot of other sculptures, ranging from music notes to birds, animals, landscapes and other sea life.
“Salmon and trout are a big thing here in the Northwest so I thought I would make something that was tied to the area we live in,” he said.
Tade always has enjoyed working with his hands and with metal, so his decision to enroll in the welding program at Peninsula College was an easy one for him. The art followed.
“I like that you can make something and choose to add to it or take from it so easily, and there is no waiting for the glue to dry. It also provides a way for me to take ideas from my mind and turn them into physical objects.”
Although Tade had a lot of experience in drawing and painting, he did not sculpt metal until December 2013.
“I wanted to surprise my wife with a sculpture that she had told me about, so I made her a fish she wanted, a salmon made out of aluminum,” he said. And because he is a published artist in other mediums, Tade figured that when it came to metal he could teach himself how to shape and form it — and he has!
P.A. students shine with welding art
“Everything I do becomes an art form after some practice and a long learning curve,” said Rachel Loomis of Port Angeles when she talks about her welding. A nurse for 26 years, Loomis is now in the first year of her AAS degree.
She took her first welding course during the summer of 2013.
“I fell into a summer school offering at Peninsula College offered by Eoin Doherty and fell in love with welding,” she said. It was then that she created what she calls her first “piece” ― a free-hand “hand” that was plasma cut from 16-gauge sheet steel. “Eoin taught me how not to slice my digits off and I enjoyed using the plasma cutter immensely. It is my favorite shop tool. The hand is on my locker to this day.”
One of her first works was an owl made of steel, but Loomis says she recently has switched to copper or “repose.” It is an old art and one she likes. “Copper is truly the most beautiful of metals, with some interesting qualities.”
Where others see only scrap metal, Eulalia Engel sees flying dragons and other mythical creatures. To this first-year welding student who now lives in Port Angeles, welding is “an overlooked expressive medium.”
Although Engel always has been interested in art, she says she hadn’t really thought much about combining art and welding until she got in the welding shop and saw all the possibilities. When someone commissioned the welding students to create a dragon, she was ready for the challenge.
With no formal training in art, Engel says she just started working. “Metal has unique qualities that are resurrected when it has been heated and forged. It was these qualities that breathed life into this piece. I often felt when working on the fire pit that I was the tool the metal was using and not the other way around."
Now that the dragon project is behind her, Engel is looking toward a future that will continue to combine welding and art. “Welding has helped me become better at everything,” she said. “It makes the brain click in a different way. I’ve developed better hand-and-eye coordination and it even has helped me in my music as I listen to the frequency and timing of the machines in the shop (she is a member of the local band, S.S.T.).