Creativity Sparked from Junk

By Beacon Staff

Wayne Hill surveyed his treasure trove of rusty scrap metal, searching for the perfect piece. He snagged an old, large wrench and held it up.

“What is this?” he said with a playful look that tells you “a wrench” is the incorrect answer. He held the defunct tool in front of him, admiring it.

“It’s a parrot,” he said, answering his own question.

Hill sees junk metal a little differently than most. A welder by trade and a creative guy by nature, Hill developed a hobby that integrates both of these aspects. Junk metal is transformed into art as old shears and shovels become birds, propane tanks are pigs and old transmission pieces and sprockets become fishermen.

“When you start collecting this stuff you have no idea where it’s headed,” Hill said. “Everything makes something.”

His shop and lawn exhibit can be seen from the bridge over the Stillwater River, on the north side of U.S. Highway 2, marked by a green metal sign that reads “Junkyard Art” and accompanied by a friendly looking metal man made from propane tanks.

The hobby started when he was 16 after some mentoring from his uncle, Hill said. After that, he took welding classes and has been a welder for most of his professional life. He built birdhouses out of scrap wood as a creative outlet, decorating them with pieces of metal.

But like most people in the Flathead Valley, Hill said he began to feel the recession creep into his life during the last year. His employer started cutting back on hours. Hill joked that he realized he probably couldn’t be a golf pro despite loving the game, so he needed to find something else to do.

That’s when he began welding more art pieces for his collection, named “Sparky’s Design.” He said he started looking for scrap metal in earnest and his enthusiasm caught on. People started dropping piles by his house, sometimes in the dark. He said he tripped over a newly donated scrap heap in his lawn a couple nights ago.

Hill said he usually trades for the scrap by giving the person a discount on an art piece. And while most people take extraordinary measures to prevent their metal possessions from rusting, Hill savors it.

“I’m a student of rust,” he said as he picked his way through a pile outside his home workshop, adding that he always makes sure his Tetanus shot is up to date.

After his hours were cut back even more, Hill said he realized he could pursue his metal art and supplement his income. He started loading up his truck and taking pieces to various farmers’ markets in the area.

People were attracted to the art because it is often humorous, he said, and he ended up selling about 200 pieces. Some of his most popular creations are the animals, especially the shovel birds and the dachshunds made from large springs. He also sells some of his pieces at Sassafras in downtown Kalispell, which until recently included a propane pig painted a blinding shade of fluorescent pink.

But Hill said he gets more out of the farmers’ markets than just selling his art. The fun he had interacting with people he might not meet otherwise was worth his time, he said. People would wander through his exhibit, smiling and laughing about the outrageous characters.

“That’s the pay,” he said.

To prepare for the winter, Hill is putting on new sliding doors and adding a wood-burning stove to his workshop. He recommended the art form to anyone who might have some spare time on his or her hands and could take a welding course.

Though he can pick out a parrot from a rusting pile of steel, Hill said the excitement of creative spontaneity keeps him at his workbench with his wire-feed welder. Just adding some nuts and bolts to a flat piece of metal suddenly makes it a head with eyes, he said, and then it just goes from there.

“Welding turned into something fun rather than something that’s work,” Hill said.

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