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Scrap metal expands Canadian artist’s forte into welding

Flower gardens, berry patches, straw-bale B&B cottages, and sculptures—lots of sculptures—grace an artist’s 5 acres just outside the community of Winlaw, B.C., Canada.

All peacefully coexist under the watchful eye of Rabi’a, who embraced her artistic leanings as she approached her 60th birthday. That was in 2003. Since then her robust curiosity, appreciation for the environment, and dedication to sustainable practices are reflected in her art and her material choices.

In many cases, the inspiration and components for her mosaics, fabric banners, magnetic vinyl designs, and sculptures come from found or discarded items. About 10 years ago she discovered working with scrap metal.

“I was well into my 60s when I decided that welding was the next thing to do. I started collecting all kinds of scrap and bits of leftover metal. Some interesting pieces come from scrap-yards or abandoned mining sites. Local weld shops let me scrounge through the scrap bins. Sometimes I find stunning pieces. I love the negative spaces,” Rabi’a said.

“When I first started working with metal, I would take my pieces to a weld shop to be tacked together. That worked to create the sculptures, but it was hard to make any changes during the welding process.

“My partner, Carl Schlichting, who is also an artist and welder, suggested I start welding. That led to adding a Millermatic MIG welder to my studio. I had help learning how to turn it on and work with the gas pressures. The rest was self-taught.

“I learned that if something is too rusty, you grind it clean where you want the weld. Most of my pieces start off rusty because they’ve been outside for years, and stay that way.”

Rabi’a doesn’t like the pressure that comes with commissioned work. “I make what I want to make with materials I have. The only things I make for a purpose are for the Sculpturewalk. Even then, I can still do what I want.”

Welding, she said, has had a great impact on the art she wants to do. So much so that she purchased new material for the first time. Clean, new 4- by 8-ft. sheets of steel were used to create the “Housing Crisis” sculpture.

“My journey as an artist started late, so I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. So far, of all my processes, I’m most enamored with welding, but I don’t call myself a welder. I call myself an artist who welds.”