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Oshkosh couple turns steel into work of art

  • Article by: NOELL DICKMANN
  • Associated Press
  • March 8, 2014 - 1:50 PM

OSHKOSH, Wis. — When Colin and Meghan Donnelly of Oshkosh bought a plasma cutter for Colin to use for work, they never expected it would open up the doors to the fine art world. They simply enjoyed seeing what 10,000 watts of electricity could do to steel.

Four years later, the metal artists and founders of Scorpion Welding, LLC, have pieces featured in the permanent folk art collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The duo is creating a buzz in the fine art world, though neither are professionally-trained artists. In addition to being in the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Donnellys' pieces are featured in the Katie Gingrass Art Gallery in Milwaukee and in another exhibit at the museum called Uncommon Folk, which runs through May 4.

They've created more than 300 pieces on shovels that have sold all over the country. They also use fuel oil tanks, chairs, barrels, and any other steel items they can get their hands on. The husband and wife said they enjoy turning old industrial objects that most people see as garbage into works of art.

"It's kind of neat to be able to make someone look at it and say, 'Wow, that's kind of pretty," Colin told Oshkosh Northwestern Media (http://oshko.sh/1g834Pt).

The metal art is a reflection of life as a working-class citizen, they said in their artist statement, as they feel industrial items are what built America. They get their ideas from lace and fabric patterns, structures and architecture, or simply whatever comes to mind.

Both Colin and Meghan vaporize steel with a plasma cutter that takes 10,000 watts of electricity and approximately 100 pounds per square inch of compressed air. They must wear fire resistant clothes, dark glasses, leather gloves, boots and air masks to protect themselves.

It's not a common hobby, they said.

The two laughed as they recounted funny scenes of sparks catching their pants on fire from time to time, or getting a tan from the arc of electricity.

They started in their driveway and people would stop in to buy pieces from the front yard. Soon the Donnellys were renting a space, doing commissioned work and making money at arts and crafts shows.

"We kept having little goals and then we kept meeting those goals," Meghan said. "And then other ones would come up that we didn't even think of."

They made three pieces for Makers Mark Distillery Inc., another for a restaurant in Milwaukee called Dino's Riverwest, shovels for companies all over like Harley-Davidson Motor Co., and were recently commissioned to do three pieces made from old fuel oil tanks for the city of Oshkosh.

Miller Electric Manufacturing Co. took note of their work, too, as the Donnellys said they put triple the amount of time on a plasma cutter that the tool would normally get in the field.

They get to test out Miller products prior to the company putting them on the market, and as a result, Meghan has a pink plasma cutter made by Miller.

Two years ago they were invited to be in the Katie Gingrass Gallery in Milwaukee, something they hadn't been aiming for at the time. It's rare for an artist to be invited into a gallery, they said, though they didn't know it then.

"We were like, 'Wow, this is it. This is the epitome,'" Colin said. "And then all the sudden the museum wanted our stuff."

The Milwaukee Art Museum store sold out of the 16 shovels they had featured in two hours. They asked for 16 more, and chose two for the permanent folk art exhibit.

Someday their children, 2-year-old daughter Eibhlin and a son they're expecting in May, can go to the museum and remember watching their parents create the pieces there, they said.

Eibhlin already knows the words "air compressor" and "plasma cutter," they said with a chuckle. The two take turns cutting while the other watches her, though Meghan has stuck to drawing while pregnant.

The Donnellys said the success they're having is both lucky and surreal. They don't care about making money or becoming famous, so long as people enjoy their art.

"All that matters to us is that they like it," Meghan said.

Both Donnelly artists had wanted to go into artistic careers when they were younger, but thought it unrealistic to pursue. Now they get self-satisfaction knowing they ended up being successful with it anyways — not to mention, neither of the young couple is even 36 years old.

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Oshkosh Northwestern Media

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