CONCORDIA — It may be hot, it may be dirty, it may be rusty relics to some, but artist Rebecca Schnackenberg, owner of Dos Gatos Designs, welds whimsical creatures from scrap and makes people smile.
“I work from recycled metal, scrap and an old farm implements,” she said. “I weld them together to make art.”
She has the gift of metal art in her blood. Her Norwegian great-grandfather Ole Hexum and his son Orris Hexum, of Minnesota, were blacksmiths, and her late grandfather Maurice Thompson, of Independence, liked to collect scrap.
“He never wanted to see anything go to waste,” Schnackenberg said. “Unfortunately he passed before I really got going; I think he would have really enjoyed this. He would have got a kick out of seeing this.”
When asked if welding with a MIG welder is difficult, Schnackenberg replied that it’s not necessarily hard, but it is hot and dirty.
“Welding is not hard, I think anyone can learn to weld,” she said. “To weld well though, takes lots and lots of practice and I’m always working on it. I think the fact that I enjoy it so much is why I don’t consider it hard.”
Being a business owner and traveling to shows can be more labor intensive.
“… Running my own business, yes, that is very hard,” she said. “Getting ready for the South Dakota show, I had several nights where I would come home from my day job and work until 10 or 11 p.m. in the garage.
“There is always something to do from applying to art shows, figuring out my booth setup, to designing new pieces … something is always on my mind,” she added. “But I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.”
During the day, Schnackenberg works at Midwest Accident and Reconstruction Services, but spends about four days a week creating metal art.
“When I’m not at work, I’m usually working on this,” she said.
Schnackenberg began working with metal in college. She graduated in 2004 from Concordia University in Nebraska with a degree in graphic design. She also took an evening welding class from 2010-12 at State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
While at Concordia University, Schnackenberg learned to weld from Dr. Ken Schmidt during a sculpture class.
“He showed us pictures of Deborah Butterfield’s horses, when she worked in metal,” Schnackenberg said. “He showed us how to use the welder and the plasma cutter; from there I was hooked. Then he took us to the scrapyard and we got to pick our materials and we went back and put our own sculptures together.”
Schnackenberg specializes in yard and garden sculptures, creating them in her garage; she often makes whimsical birds and bugs, but she does create other creatures.
“I had a custom order last year from a lady who wanted to get a dog for her husband because he has hunting dogs,” she said. “They actually live on a farm and they had a whole bunch of scrap, so I went and picked through their stuff and I made him a dog sculpture from that.”
She added that the dog was full-sized and one of the largest pieces she’s made, although height-wise the some of her birds are as tall as a person.
When she created the dog, she added that “from start to finish” it took two full days.
“(It’s) finding the right pieces that work together to get the overall look that you are going for,” she added.
Once she has found and assembled all the pieces to create a sculpture, she welds the art in her garage.
“I find the piece I need, and I’ll clean the spot I need to weld, because a lot of it’s rusty,” she added. “That involves using a grinder. I’ll take it down to bare metal, then I’ll put the pieces together, how I want them, and I use a MIG welder.”
Since 2010 she has been pursuing her art full-time, creating more than 100 birds and often traveling to shows across the county.
“I just got back from Brookings, South Dakota, in July,” she said. “They have a big summer arts festival in the park. They had 200 artists and they say they draw 75,000 people. It’s a big one and it’s been going on for awhile.”
Schnackenberg will participate in an art show in Overland Park, Kansas, in September and will be at Heritage Days in Warsaw in October. She also has work for sale in Concordia at Restored Treasures on Main Street.
She’s found being a woman who welds and takes her work to shows is sometimes interesting.
“People will look at it, and then they’ll ask me ‘oh did your husband do this?’” she said. “I say ‘no it’s all me’ … that look right after you tell them is priceless. A lot of them are excited or pleased when they hear that; they think it’s really cool. It’s always positive.”
Besides birds, she creates insects and also metal words backed with wood that can be used for wall hangings.
“That’s what I like about it, anything’s possible,” she said. “It seems like the ideas are endless.”
Most recently she had a request for a metal nativity scene.
“People really seemed to like it,” she said. “It can be (set) inside, it’s a little bit smaller.”
Also new this year is a peacock-type bird that holds wine bottles in the tail.
“It’s real colorful,” she added.
She said she loves creating birds because “they lend themselves” easily to the shapes she has in mind.
“For some reason they can be really quirky and have a lot of personality,” she added.
Always on the lookout for scrap metal, Schnackenberg travels to auctions, garage sales and farms to find material for her work.
For more information about Rebecca Schnackenberg and Dos Gatos Designs, call her at 816-305-1413, visit www.dosgatosdesigns.com or visit Instagram or her Facebook page at Dos Gatos Designs.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 826-1000 ext. 1481 or @flbemiss.