Saw operator finds path to art in discarded metal
October 20, 2011
Saw operator discovers artistic talent in the discarded metal pieces from his saw and around his job shop.
When Bryan Grieze was called back to the company that had let him go, it was a blessing. He would have come back and done anything if it meant having a job, and in this case he was coming back as a saw operator. What he didn’t realize was that this opportunity would open the door to a talent that, up until that point, he never realized he had.
It’s been 10 years since Grieze became the saw operator at Deister Machine Co., in Fort Wayne, Ind. He worked in shipping and then was transferred to assembly before being laid off. After having no luck finding a job elsewhere, Grieze called the company and offered his services wherever there was a need.
“I said, ‘I don’t care what you want me to do.’ They said they had a saw and that they needed someone to operate it, so I took it. I lucked out. If I had never become a saw operator, I probably never would have switched.”
Switched from woodworking to metalworking, that is. But before that he had envisioned himself as a stone sculptor. Either way, Grieze has always had artistic leanings, but he never considered that talent would include metal until he began running the saw and was surrounded by steel—buckets full of scrap metal that turned into cogs of a sculpture in his mind.
Grieze immediately asked the welders for a quick tutorial on how to run the gas metal arc welding machine. They showed him how to hold the gun; taught him the correct gun angle; and pretty soon Grieze was tacking pieces of metal together.
“I’d work on stuff during my break. I’d take a bucket of junk over to a weld table and go crazy. The other guys would walk up and ask me how I did it all. I’d just say, ‘I don’t know,’” Grieze laughed.
Grieze collects scrap metal pieces, many of which he finds on the job or on the shop floor after running the saw, and creates both static sculptures like airplanes, alligators, and eagles as well as functional items such as tables, bookshelves, stools, and chairs.
With an idea in mind, Grieze can sift through a pile of discarded metal and find the pieces he needs to turn his concept into reality.
“I can just pull up with a bucketful of junk and within 20 minutes I can have it looking like something. I like having an idea in mind. If I don’t have an idea in mind— I have four sculptures out in my barn right now that I tried to do without an idea in mind, and they’re all rusted up in the back corner now.”
But his material isn’t limited to shop floor scrap, as is evident in his “Lady Liberty” (see Figure 1). The sculpture features a doorknob, an upside-down quart paint bucket, and a bicycle gear. The torch that she’s holding is a piece of brass welded inside of a washer. The copper flames also are welded on. Before he fashions images of well-known historical figures, Grieze likes to research them because he said it helps him to do better work.
Grieze uses an angle grinder or his GMAW machine to cut and shape the scrap metal parts, which is how he gave shape to his wall-mounted eagle sculpture (see Figure 2).
“It’s messy and it wastes wire but it works. I love how it came out.”
After a few years of giving away his sculptures to family and friends, Grieze, at the urging of a friend, entered the Trash-To-Treasure Art Contest hosted by the Allen County Solid Waste Management District. He took second. He was shocked.
“I was like, ‘Wow! I’m that good? What the heck?’ After that I made it a point to enter that show.”
In 2010 he won the event with his sculpture of Anthony Wayne—a Revolutionary War Army brigadier general—riding a motorcycle (see Figure 3).
“Everybody thinks it’s George Washington. I tell them, ‘Well, if you think it’s George, then it’s George.’”
Grieze made the bike first and then sculpted the Anthony Wayne figurine specially to fit the bike. It’s one of his favorite pieces.
“I was going to make a horse for him, but I always wait until the last minute for these things and it seems like I do a better job.”
His success at art shows, paired with the interest generated by his friends, family, and onlookers, provided Grieze with the inspiration he needed to open a side business that focuses solely on metal art sculpture. He got a tax number, built a shed that serves as his gallery, and received permission from Deister’s owner to take home scrap metal pieces for his materials. He then researched metal art online to make sure he wasn’t creating things too similar to other artists’ work, adding, “I don’t want to take anyone else’s ideas.”
One of the positive results is that Grieze has seen a noticeable evolution in the quality and size of his work.
“I have my first sculpture—a tall man holding an American flag—out in my yard, and you can see that I didn’t know how to weld because the welds are horrible. But I left it like that so I could always remember.”