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Iron clad artwork

One-day workshops offer
unique opportunity to ‘draw with fire’

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

SULPHUR, Ky. (December 2004) – As Bates Webster, 38, of Sulphur, Ky., was nearing the end of her master’s program at the University of Louisville, she was still not sure what she wanted to do with her art credentials. She had always wanted to try working with metal, but the big, heavy machinery was very intimidating.

Bates Webster

Photo by Debra Maylum

Bates Webster with
two of her sculptures.

With a short time left in her college career, she knew her chance for instruction would soon be over, so she went in one day while nobody else was there and asked a professor to show her the basics. It was surprisingly easy, she said, and that day she created seven pieces. When the professor saw her work, he convinced her to include them in her thesis show. Everything began to progress from there, Webster said.
Today, she operates the Red House Farm, a fully equipped metal sculpture studio in Sulphur, where she teaches workshops to beginners. She spent many years traveling around the country successfully wholesaling her work, which at one time was in 140 stores and galleries, before deciding to settle into one place and teach. She has been teaching workshops for about a year now.
In the one-day workshop, students learn basic welding and cutting, and they then make a sculpture. According to Webster, the workshops are relaxed. She provides structure as far as teaching goes, however, the students take it from there.
“I show them how to do everything, and then I let them do whatever they want. If someone wants to spend the whole day cutting, that is fine,” Webster said. Many students arrive with ideas already in mind about what they want to create, she said. Some bring pictures and are ready to get to work, while others need some inspiration and ideas, which she is always able to provide.
Once a student knows what he would like to create, they get to work. For example, said Webster, if they want to make a table, we start with the metal and a plasma torch. The compressed air and electricity torch gets hot quickly, allowing a person to, in a sense, draw with it. The student would first cut out the design of the tabletop, then the legs. Next, he would weld the pieces together. The final step is to finish the piece with a clear coat.
If the student chooses, he can send the final piece to be powder coated. This creates a different look, according to Webster, and makes the piece more permanent because it prevents rusting. Some people like the look of a rusted piece. It is simply a personal preference.

Chip Hicks

Photo by Debra Maylum

Chip Hicks of La Grange, Ky., works
on his first sculpture.

The teaching experience has been a positive one for Webster. She said she loves liberating people from the initial fear of using the equipment and watching them grab the torch and get to work. Each class has no more than four students, so everyone gets one-on-one instruction, which makes for a wonderful experience. Odd as it may sound, people often comment on how peaceful it is. Many people are interested in learning to do more once they complete the one-day workshop, she said. As a result, she is creating a package that would include several classes so students could come back and advance their skills through several sessions.
Just about every range of person imaginable is interested in learning to sculpt with metal. Webster has taught men and women ranging from ages 15 to early 60s who come from all lifestyles.
“She provides such a low key environment and has a way of making you feel like you can do anything you want,” said Marilyn Werst, 55, who traveled from Louisville to take the workshop. Werst said that just being able to use the tools and tell people she had welded something was exciting. Her “eating crow” sculpture, an idea she got from a sculpture she had seen at an art show in Vermont, is proudly displayed in her yard.
Each eight-hour, Saturday (or by appointment) workshop costs $180 and includes everything needed to go home with a sculpture. Once you go through the motions, it is easy and students sometimes leave with a number of projects, Webster said.

• For information or to reserve a spot in a workshop, visit www.drawwithfire.com or call the Red House Farm at (502) 773-3494.

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