The Torch Queen’s Students Reign

The Torch Queen’s Students Reign

Welding Artists featured in August Show

Digimax A50 / KENOX Q2Some art is delicate: a bow moving gently across violin strings, the sweep of a watercolor brush, the beatific expression on a young actor’s face. An art that combines open flames, heavy metal and plenty of warning labels doesn’t add up to much delicacy, and it’s clear that this is a reason Bonnie Ramirez loves welding.

“Welding isn’t inherently dangerous, but you can really hurt somebody or blow us up,” she says with an impishness that makes you wonder just who these welding types are. Ramirez, a.k.a. “The Torch Queen,” is a professional welder and has been teaching the arts and sculpture welding class at J. Everett Light Career Center for several years. In August, she will present her adult student work at Nickel Plate Arts.

Ramirez flips through photos on her phone of students and their work like a proud mother. “Some of them are getting pretty stinkin’ good,” she says, turning the screen to brag on them more.

Pieces will range from yard art, incorporating rods with metal shapes, to a lamp wrought from a vintage fire extinguisher. The lamp, by artist Kory Krebs, includes a metal fire bucket and harks to his family roots. A garden wall hanging is a mixed media piece of Indiana limestone, steel and copper.

During the day, the J. Everett Light Career Center welding shop is home to students learning welding for work. During Ramirez’s class, the tools remain relatively the same, but the intent is purely for art.

The wide-open space has concrete walls and floors to discourage catching fire. Big overhead doors let plenty of air into the high-temperature space. Tools for oxy-acetylene welding make way for oxygen and an open flame to carry out what Ramirez calls “old school welding” that allows for localized melting of the workpiece material.

“You can hammer, bend, twist, braid. You can sink and raise copper into vessels,” she says. It was this style that continues to inspire awe for Ramirez. About 20 years ago, when she was teaching welding at the Austin Sculpture Academy in Texas, where she received her degree through the Austin Community College, she visited a Mexican village called “Copper by the Sea.” There, people turned salvaged copper from car parts and wire into ingot. Children with sledgehammers formed a circle to shape the ingot to sink or raise it into bowls as pieces of metal splintered off into the air.

“Welding is hard, but once you get the hang of it, it’s very empowering. There’s a learning curve with tools and equipment. And you have to know how to use it all, ‘cause it will kill you if you don’t know how,” Ramirez says with a laugh. Her students aren’t your typical thrill seekers.

Her most recent students have included an elementary school teacher, an amateur gardener, housewives, medical professionals and a surprising number of engineers. Her students often come back for a second or third class. They love it just as much as Ramirez.

“It’s like anything else, man. You just have to work at it. You just have to practice. But once they get it, they’re like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s hilarious.”

Ailithir McGill