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Maid of Metal: Seeing Things in Stuff

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

You might be surprised what can be done with a hunk of salvaged metal and an understanding of welding, freehand torch cutting, hammering, drilling, forming, and painting. Or maybe not. Especially if you’re T.

T (yes, it’s just “T”) is Maid of Metal. A Millwright by trade, this maid can make everything from garden art to truck receiver inserts, mantle pieces to jewelry from reclaimed or new materials. She comes by it honestly. T was glued to her dad, a Millwright, and from a young age, she hung out with him and his “garage group” of Millwright buddies, learning enough to hold her own. She joined the four-year apprenticeship in her early 20's, became a Journeyman, Foreman, the Northern California Apprenticeship Instructor for Millwrights, a Certified Welding Inspector and President of the Local Union.

With a 32-year career requiring a breadth of technical skills from math proficiency and ability to read blueprints to how to use a torch, hook things to a crane, and drive all types of forklifts, becoming an artist might seem a stretch. But for T, it wasn't.

“I’ve always had an artistic nature, but actually combining the metal (parts) I work with into something to display came by accident," explains T. “I fabricated a garden flower testing a new plasma arc cutting torch I had at school. I painted it and gave it as a gift. Then my husband asked me to cut him out an aardvark for his truck, so I made him a receiver insert.” Another early creation involved using old monorail chain links from a defunct car plant (now Tesla). T had a few and asked her mother what she thought they could be used for. Her mom immediately saw them as grasshopper legs, and a garden figure was born. Before she knew it, T was seeing "things in stuff”.

T’s first Foreman job entailed running a crew of Millwright welders, tasked with the layout of schedule 40, eight-inch diameter piping that consisted of many compound curves. The crazy curved pipe sections, once welded together, were over 60 feet long and had to be hung and welded vertically, six stories up, at the Kraft food plant in San Leandro (which is gone now). The measurements had to be perfect as the team only had one shot with the crane to put them in place. As a tradesman, it was very nerve wracking, but went off without a hitch.

As an artist, T’s biggest piece is also her most complex: a three-foot tall sunflower/clock that has many parts. The petals are all individually cut and braised, then welded on a ring. The center of the flower was pee