Magical, mystical metal

The art of Richard Wilson

April 11, 2006
By: Vicki Bell

Richard Wilson's metal art reflects his appreciation for metal's lesser-known intrinsic qualities. This article explains how Wilson became a welder and metal artist and describes the materials and processes he uses. It details one project from start to finish. It also offers insight into the future of the welding labor force from Wilson's perspective as a welding instructor and manufacturing consultant.

"Eagle" Sculpture by Richard Wilson.

What adjectives would you use to describe metal? Shiny, strong, durable, impenetrable? How about magical and mystical? No? Talk to welder and artist Richard Wilson and you just might come away with a whole new perspective on metal.

How Wilson became a welder and metal artist is a fascinating story. His father, Walter Wilson, shared with him the "Zen" of welding and metalwork. Family lore has it that "the Wilsons have been masters of metal since Goge stole the secrets of fire and iron from the Titans." Wilson's father learned blacksmithing from his father, a Union forces blacksmith at Gettysburg. When welding became an accepted method of joining metals, Wilson's dad joined the welding community as a welding engineer for the Elliot Co. in Ridgeway, Pa.

Wilson also has a maternal link to welding. When women were called on to work in manufacturing plants during World War II, Wilson's mother received welding training. She became a welder at Rockwell Mfg. She and Wilson's father met when he was conducting an inspection for the Department of the Navy.

Wilson continued the family welding tradition by amassing vast experience and credentials. He worked as a boilermaker, structural steel fabricator, welding engineer, certified welding inspector, certified welding educator, certified manufacturing technologist, NDT technologist, and QA/QC systems manager. He currently serves as a consultant to the local metal manufacturing community, and he also creates and sells unique sculptural and functional artwork that expresses metal's beauty, use, and durability.

First Art Project

"Bicycler" Sculpture by Richard Wilson.

Wilson's dad had a welding and fabricating shop. One day 8-year-old Wilson was helping clean the shop and thinking about what to give his sister for her upcoming birthday. "My thought was to create a symbol expressing her affection for her kitten. With that in mind, I came across some 3/16-inch-diameter rod and the image flashed in my mind to fabricate a wire cat letter holder," Wilson said. That was the beginning of a long and fulfilling avocation creating metal art that continued long after Wilson ceased to work full-time in the welding profession.

What Is It About Metal?

To Wilson, metal is magical and mystical, and his metal art provides psychic satisfaction. When asked to explain these beliefs, Wilson described how the magical qualities of metal were expressed throughout the ages by the masters of metal from his family and artists like Vulcan, son of Zeus and Hera, who was the protector of all craftsmen in the ancient civilizations. Vulcan's metal craftsmanship was so skillful that he made four beautiful golden handmaidens who came to life to assist him at his forge in the heavens.

Wilson said, "Metal can become anything you imagine, lasts forever, and constantly evolves with time. The psychic satisfaction can be seen in the eyes of a person who touches the metal and feels the primal attraction to its beauty and the connection to all who have held the metal—a link to Mother Earth, from which all metals come—and the fascination with how metal can express one's innermost passions."

"Rose" Sculpture by Richard Wilson.

Materials and Processes

Wilson's sculptures are made from mild steel, brass, copper, aluminum, and stainless steel. Many include railroad spikes and ball bearings, which Wilson uses because he is an "avid recycler." "I choose to use common, everyday metal parts and shapes that everyone can recognize and transform them into sculptures that express the beauty of nature and the passion of life."

Among the processes Wilson employs to create his pieces are GMAW, GTAW, SMAW, OFW, OFC, PAC, ACA, brazing, soldering, green sand casting, copper repouss, brass chasing, and forging.

Wilson's "Eagle" sculpture was fabricated from mild steel, pipe, plate, railroad spikes, nails, and ball bearings. The texture and body shape were achieved by GMAW deposits.

"Guitarist" Sculpture by Richard Wilson.


Without inspiration, there is no art. Three sources inspire Wilson. First is his wife, "a truly gifted musician. While she is practicing and creating her magic, a concept flashes in my mind, moves my soul, and remains in my mind until I produce the sketch."

Another inspiration is Mother Nature's scenic beauty, and a third is the local industrial salvage yards. "The twisted scrap that no longer serves the purpose for which it was intended just rusts away, but the fascinating geometric shapes and forms speak to me and tell me what they must become."

How a Sculpture Comes Together

Wilson described the inception and execution of one of his favorite pieces, titled "Dick Wilson Sculpture". It is his interpretation of a flower, the trillium grandiflorum, or snow trillium.

"I was hiking through the local State Game Land #54 and saw the trillium in its natural state. At that point, the image of my sculpture flashed into my mind and would not leave until I produced a sketch. The next step was to scale the sketch and then search for materials at the local salvage yard.

"Once I completed a presentation drawing, I presented the concept to the Down to Earth Garden Club of DuBois, Pa., for sponsorship and funding to produce the sculpture.

"Dick Wilson Sculpture/Trillium"
by Richard Wilson.

"The pedestal was fabricated from 5356 aluminum using spray mode GMAW. The stem and leaves were constructed from copper. The flowers are 4043 aluminum that was cut using PAC and hand-formed using repouss techniques. The stem and leaves, along with the bolts at the top and bottom of the stem, were attached by silver brazing.

"The pedestal was drilled and tapped to receive the bottom bolt of the stem, and the flower was attached to the top bolt with a nut, which then was brazed to the bolt to create the yellow flower center.

"The dished-out portion of the pedestal then was filled with concrete and stones I gathered from a nearby stream.

"The finished sculpture was installed in the parking area in downtown Dubois."

About Welding's Future

As a consultant, Wilson helps companies with production flow; lean systems; equipment selection; QA improvement; welding operations, procedures, training, and certifications; inspections; and cost estimations. He is asked to reduce the welding costs, part rejection, production time, and to cross-train workers. He has a first-hand look at the welding profession and its future.

According to Wilson, "Today's welding labor force comprises the old, experienced fabricators/welders who can interpret and usefully apply blueprints, specifications, and WPS and who have a passion for creating products that meet or exceed requirements. These craftsmen are becoming scarce. The other segment, whose numbers are increasing, cannot interpret prints, don't read or follow specifications, cannot or will not use the WPS, and produce substandard welds because of improper variable settings.

"Presently I am working with Penn State DuBois to establish a welder certification course and an Art in Iron course as an elective that will offer engineering students an opportunity to gain practical experience with welding and to express their creative impulses.

"The world needs to realize that in today's world, welding is not a trade or craft, but a profession that requires metallurgy and technical expertise along with physical skill. Welding must be portrayed to the public in the same context as the computer profession, and the environment in which the welder works must be equal to that of an office environment. Young people prefer to work in a clean, comfortable environment, not one with fumes, heavy physical lifting, and dirt."

As for continuing the family welding tradition, Wilsonss son is a certified AWS and ASME welder who uses welding in teaching physics lab courses at the University of Fairbanks in Alaska. No doubt his students are being exposed to the magical, mystical properties of metal.

Richard Wilson is a welding industry consultant and metalworking artist. His studio is located at 417 S. Main St., DuBois, PA 15801-1521. He can be reached at 814-371-4536,

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209