Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Meet Barbie The Welder, an American metal sculptor from Elmira, New York. Barbie realized her passion after seeing a metal sculptor at work in a major Hollywood movie. Scraping together tuition, she enrolled in welding courses and subsequently obtained a position with a custom metal fabrication shop. Today, Barbie runs her own business as a full-time metal sculptor.
Her current project, “The Tradesman,” is a life-sized metal art sculpture commissioned by Surehand, Inc. and comprised of crowd-sourced, vintage tools—celebrating hard-working tradesmen and -women around the globe. Her last project, “Arc 2 Art“, produced by the American Welding Society, involves a collaboration with fellow metal sculptor Stephanie Hoffman as they worked together to create the Statue of Liberty—complete with welding torch, helmet and code book.
We were lucky enough to speak with Barbie about creating art, her passion for welding, challenging projects and balancing being an entrepreneur, industrial artist and YouTube personality.
What makes you passionate about welding and industrial art?
There are no limits with welding and there are really no limits with art. There’s nothing saying that I can’t be on TV tomorrow and start my own clothing line the next day. I can continue expanding on what I’ve started doing as an artist and business woman, and it’s absolutely limitless.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
When I started my vision to be a sculptor, I had zero welding experience and zero artistic talent. To be here, 13 years later, is quite stunning. The most amazing things I’ve accomplished during that time are: I have published five books; I welded two sculptures for Harley Davidson; and I’m sponsored by Miller welders, Wilder Abrasives and Chicago Pneumatic. It’s just amazing to have these companies put their names next to mine. I have been on stage at the Full Throttle Saloon presenting sculptures to clients. I’ve also welded live at SEMA. I’ve also welded a bench for Carolina Shoe Company. I was on the Today Show earlier this year, and I also just got done being on the Kelly Clarkson show. The cotton industry (Cotton Incorportated) did a campaign for modern day Rosies and they called me and asked if I would be willing to do the campaign. It’s absolutely surreal.
You mentioned in a recent podcast that you are constantly learning. What projects are you doing now that are challenging you and what are you learning from them?
The American Welding Society has asked me to partner with another woman, Stephanie Hoffman and together, but from our separate shops, we are creating a Statue of Liberty sculpture with a welding theme. It is about three months into the sculpture, and I’ve never worked so long on a sculpture before. It is. It has pushed me beyond my skill set, but I took the job and decided I could figure it out as I went along. When I first started working on the sculpture, my idea was to shoot it with 11 gauge steel. Then after I got into it, I wasn’t getting the flowing movement for the dress that I wanted; I want it to flow using a quarter inch round bar–a car’s round rod. It has taken me three times as long to create it, because of how much weld goes into it and how much grinding goes into it. I’ve had to cut it apart, twice. I just got done cutting the head apart and am welding that back together today. And proportions. This is an iconic figure, but for me, it has to fit the aesthetic that I create. I make these beautiful curvy women, so she’s got booty. All that is really pushing me beyond everything I’ve done.
In the beginning I took whatever job paid the money. And I’ve gotten very blessed. Throughout my journey I’ve made decisions that have led me to where I can pick and choose exactly what I want to do. At this point, I’m only taking on commissions from people, things I can be really proud of. Something I always keep in mind is, if I was to die today, would I be really proud if this is the last thing I ever made?
As an entrepreneur, industrial artist, and now YouTube personality with over 18 thousand subscribers and dozens of DIY welding tutorials, do you have a message that you try to communicate to your audience?
I want to make metal art as easy as possible for people to learn, and my message is, “if you have the right teacher, it’s really easy to do.” My goal is to embody Bob Ross and his philosophy of “anyone can paint.” That’s something that I keep first and foremost in my mind: How can I make this as easy as possible for someone to learn and really have fun doing it? The welding industry needs new people, and if I can entice them to come over through the art, then maybe that’s a new way to get people involved in welding.
What advice would you give someone who would like to follow a similar path?
Practice. Practice and I implore you to look to other people for inspiration, but never, ever, ever judge yourself against them. I put in thousands of hours a year in my shop practicing, and people think, “Oh my god, I can never do that.” If you put in the time that I weld, you absolutely can. It’s all about practice. Don’t ever judge your Day 1 against someone else’s Day 100.
What do you think is in store for you in the next 5 years?
I can only imagine. I’m moving into bigger sculptures. I’ve been making these smaller sculptures between 18 inches and 24 inches in height. Lady Liberty I think she’s gonna be four feet tall. I’ve got a sculpture outside that’s half woman and half Phoenix, and I’m going to continue with the creatures that I make up and weld them full size. I feel that the life size pieces are the ones that are going to put me where I want to be, which is to sell the most expensive sculptures in the world. Why not aim huge, right?
I’ve a product line and metal art welding kits; I might continue adding to that line. My goal for that is get it into major retailers like Lowe’s and Tractor Supply and Harbor Freight so people, it can learn how to do art really quickly.
I have another book and another book I’ve got partly written, and that’s what’s gonna be next. I’m also branding a whole bunch of stuff, I am potentially going to start my own coffee company. I need a bigger shop.
Lastly, I want to go back into furniture. In addition to the big life-size sculptures, I really deeply love furniture. I love the creativity behind it. I love the one-of-a-kind stuff that no one else has. When I first started I was making a lot of furniture, a lot of tables. It took me forever to sell them just because I had no clue what I was doing with the sales and marketing. I also didn’t have room to store it in my house, so I actually ended up giving a lot of tables away. I sold a few, but I think I probably gave away as many as I sold. I would like to restart my own furniture line with things no one has ever seen before. I’ve already got designs for it so I just need a Big-Girl shop.
Want to see more of Barbie The Welder? Follow her on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Barbie’s welding kits and merchandise can be found on her Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/BarbieTheWelder
Photo credits: Barbie the Welder