Saturday, June 18, 2011

Artist Spotlight – Blue Collar Artwork

A discarded metal cone takes on a new life as an over-sized bell.

Ray Hammar, owner of Blue Collar Artwork is a fun guy who likes to play with metal. Turning discarded ‘junk’ into interesting pieces that nurseries and homeowners are clamoring for takes ingenuity, guts and a good dose of charisma, all of which Ray seems to have in abundance. That’s not to say Ray isn’t artistic – but he sets himself apart as being very down to earth and up for a challenge regardless of how much work or time might be involved. I recently caught up with him at one of my favorite funky nurseries; Dragonfly Farms Nursery near Kingston, WA. I had suggested Ray meet the nursery owner Heidi Kaster……… the time I arrived Heidi had scrambled into the back of Ray’s old pickup truck and declared “I want all of it!” Sadly that load was for another local nursery but you can be sure Heidi will be getting some great pieces very soon.
A simple but stunning table

Let me introduce Ray to you;

How did you get started in metalwork?

After starting three small companies and working almost 7 days a week for 17 years I decided it was time for a change and so took my savings and traveled first to Zion National Park and then Washington State. At that point I contracted a severe lung disease and found myself with no insurance and $9000 a day medical costs for almost a year. I lost everything – savings, home, retirement…

During the recovery period a friend lent me a portion of his shop and I just started working with scrap metal because I was able to borrow a welder and I got the scraps for free. I had never welded or worked in metal and had no art background but I soon came to realize that I had a huge appetite and passion for art. 

How do you find the raw materials?

I collect materials from all over the northwest United States; local farms and scrap yards as well as private individuals. A lot of my stuff comes from industries that I research and contact including railroad, mining, farming, marine, logging, refrigeration and airline industries as well as sanitation companies. I find machines and materials that are being replaced and usually work with the industry to get access to some very unique and rare pieces. 
An old propane tank finds a new role as an architectural
element in a garden border.

Do you incorporate any other material into your pieces besides metal?

I specialize in recycled metals but I am starting to incorporate a lot of glass and am beginning to use plastics also.

Give a few examples of the interesting materials you have used and what you have created from them.

The list of materials I use is vast. For example I have used farm machines and handmade chain built in the late 1800's. I use plastics from surfboards and copper from electric boat motors. I also use an old style of propane tank as well as cable made in the 1940s for the Public Utility District (PUD).

I have only been involved in the art world for a few years but I have created stair and deck rails, entryways, gates, fireplaces, water features, ladders, tables, kinetics, unique art pieces for homes and gardens as well as lighting and chandeliers. I have also created abstract and other types of 3 dimensional art.

Where can readers find/buy your work? Can they order online also?
I have only recently begun to sell in the public. I have art and architectural pieces at Dragonfly Farms, Savage Nursery, Molbaks, McComb Gardens, and Dig Nursery. I was commissioned to create a piece for the city of Port Townsend and my work has also been on display in Port Angeles. I enjoy being contacted directly and working with the customer and other artists. I invite people to my shop so they can create or help create their own art pieces.  For those unable to visit I am happy to discuss projects by phone and email.
An intricate stair rail and post

Have you ever wondered “what on earth can I do with that?” 

When I first began creating it took a lot of material in front of me to create art; now I don’t sleep much and ideas for designs are constantly buzzing through my head! 

What has been your most challenging project so far and why? 
I would say my most challenging project so far are the two chandeliers that I am working on currently; hundreds of parts all designed to be used in a particular order. I am learning year’s worth of machining and lighting in a few weeks. Everything is a learning curve – a challenge which I love and thrive on.

What new ideas are you working on?

I am trying to create 5 art pieces a week and so I am working on many new ideas. I am trying to create useable art for organic farms as well as new ideas for nurseries and designers as well as some specialty stores.

Thanks Ray!

From personal experience I have to tell you that I am seriously impressed by Ray’s work ethic. When my husband and I met Ray recently we peered into his truck (an Aladdin’s Cave if ever there was one) and pointed to a few pieces to ask if he could create a water feature out of them for us. The three of us immediately started brainstorming as to how it could be constructed to have moving parts, water dripping from several places….and not rust! Now there’s a challenge. Bear in mind that the beauty of his work is the weathered, rusted appearance but we couldn’t have rust clogging the fountain pump or discoloring nearby stone. Most artists would just dismiss this as being either impossible or simply not worth their time to research and fiddle with. Not Ray. He has spent the past few weeks talking to marine specialists and powder coating companies amongst others, researching what materials and methods might work best for us. He is even willing to build a prototype as a learning experience. Now that is enthusiasm, dedication, amazing customer service and a true artist.
Glass accents add a beautiful detail.

See more of Ray's work on his website or if you’re in the Seattle area make an appointment to visit him or see his work at the nurseries linked above.

All photos courtesy of Blue Collar Artwork unless otherwise noted.

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