|Posted by [email protected] on February 19, 2016 at 6:40 PM|
ONA - Follow the faded yellow lines out Fudges Creek Road, past the little white church and around the bend, and there's a garage caked in three generations of soot. Inside, there are tools with three generations' worth of wear; solid and built for three generations of sturdy hands.
Beside the crackling wood-burning stove, Seth Morris fires up his grandpa's old welder, a metal beast about the size of a small hot water tank.
On his grandpa's work bench is a steel flower. The petals were cut from a seized-up Dodge engine, and the stamens were welding rods Morris had found scattered around the shop. Welder lit, he flips his helmet down over his horn-rimmed glasses and goes to work.
It's not exactly the same work his dad and grandpa lit their torches for. Seth Morris, for all his on-the-job education in his blue-collar life, found himself throwing flame for art's sake.
"It's pretty satisfying, especially when it looks like what you want it to look like." said Morris, 24. "I've always been pretty creative, and it really just flowed from that."
Born and raised in Milton, Morris' dad and grandpa had worked as pipeline welders, teaching their sons the craft in their modest, cluttered garage. Morris learned on railroad ties and couplings, practicing straight-lined welds and aimlessly sticking junk together. Not much more was thought of it beyond that, and when the fun was over, the practice pieces were simply sold for scrap.
Graduating from Cabell Midland High School in 2009, Morris studied industrial electricity at the Cabell County Career Technology Center in Huntington. A slew of odd jobs, including constructing a Little Caesar's in Ravenswood, West Virginia, and a recently quit stint at Walmart, kept him going as he continues to look for work.
Seth Morris the artist is a fairly recent title. A session of idly welding scrap together grew into Morris' first major sculpture, a daylily about 18 inches tall. Morris said he was so pleased with how the first flower turned out, he began picking through the scrap around the shop to make another. Then another. Morris said he would stay in his grandpa's garage for days, churning out piece after piece, each fused with mismatched parts and beautiful in itself.
With a small boutique of metal flowers assembled, Morris took his first step into the public in September 2014, setting up a table at Heritage Station's monthly Artisan Market in Huntington. He didn't know what to expect, and didn't even have set prices on his pieces, only selling one that first evening.
"That's a pretty huge leap there," Morris said "That was uncharted territory."
Morris sold at two more Artisan Markets before joining the Tri-State Artists Association, allowing him to sell his sculptures in Ritter Park during the biannual Art in the Park weekend art show in Huntington.
Fitting himself in the local arts community and in the company of other artists has been "very weird" for Morris, coming from a gritty lifestyle in the hinterlands of eastern Cabell County.
"Some of the people, I'm just not really sure how to take them," Morris said. "Not that I don't associate with them, but where I was working, there were never people like that around.
"I had to get used to that. That and other people's ideas of what art looked like. I had to get used to looking at things for a different perspective. Yeah, there're a few weird people, too. You just have to get used to that."
Now marketing his sculptures as "Fire and Steel Artistic Creations," Morris has appeared in seven art shows so far, most in Huntington, but a few in Charleston, and plans to appear in town again in 2016. Morris said his work is most commonly described as simply "interesting," and he hopes he can appeal to buyers outside the standard art collecting crowd.
"They don't have to be part of the art community to appreciate it," Morris said. "Not to say that it's more manly because it's made out of car parts, but there's that, too. I have heard that a couple of times."
While sculpting with scrap parts isn't totally rare on the art scene, Morris said he likes to keep his work small, intricate and tasteful.
"Not, like, a giant exhaust pipe chicken or something," he laughed.
Morris draws most of his inspiration from native plants out in the wild, but will stick the flame to whatever pops into his head. Smaller pieces can take as little as a few hours to complete, if all the scrap is clean. Larger pieces can take a few days. Morris prices them roughly between $35 to $50 each.
"It's just a hobby, but when it does well, it does supplement my income," Morris said "Everyone can appreciate it, but that doesn't mean they're going to buy it. So I'm not really bummed out if I don't do very well.
"I just think it looks better like this than it does rusting in a scrapyard."
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.
HOBBIES: Being outdoors, painting, fishing
FAVORITE MOVIES: "The Cannonball Run," "Star Wars," black-and-white sci-fi films
FAVORITE BOOKS: Nikola Tesla's patent notes