When Alexis Amerson lowered her helmet and reached for the mig welder, she was thinking about life and death.
But she was also thinking about mom and dad, and herself.
Emerson, of Crossett, recently won a gold medal in welding sculpture at the state welding competition, and will represent Arkansas at the national competition June 21 to 24.
The sculpture, a skull surrounded by flowers, took a lot of work, she said, and though she has always been an artist, was very different from the kind of art she usually produces.
“I always called myself a pencil and paper gal,” she said.
Before she knew she was going to be competing at a state level, Amerson said she got involved in the welding program — which is done through dual-enrollment at the University of Arkansas-Monticello’s College of Technology-Crossett— because her boyfriend won the welding competition two years ago and she wanted to better understand what he did.
“I wanted to see all the challenges of what he does,” she said.
The concept for the sculpture came from a drawing Amerson did, a drawing she said was inspired by her parents. The skull represents her father, who is a tough person, while the flowers are for her mother, who she said, “is a beautiful person, inside and out.”
The piece is also meant to represent how, even though it can be painful, “sometimes (death) is in a way beautiful and not scary,” Amerson said.
“So you look at (the sculpture), and maybe it looks scary, but maybe it looks beautiful.”
Building the skull was an involved process that included cutting pieces of pipe and shaping them, shaping small rods and plates to go on the side, welding and grinding, and coloring the piece with an oxyacetylene torch before coating it with polyethylene. She made the flowers by cutting spoons with a plasma torch, then heating them up and immersing them in water.
Amerson said the amount of work required meant she almost didn’t finish the sculpture in time for the competition, but when she did she was happy with the result.
“I am very proud of this,” she said.
Another of her classmates, Braiden Bradford of Hamburg, took the silver metal in the sculpture competition for crafting a metal fish hiding inside a log. The sculpture has individual scales and a crawfish hiding in the interior.
In shaping the sculpture, Bradford used an old bandsaw blade to create underwater weeds, and a combination of stick and mig welding as well as plasma cutting for the sculpture’s stainless steel portions.
Bradford said he loves fishing, so when instructor Donnie Dubose gave the assignment, it made sense.
“When he said that I would have to build a sculpture, of course I wanted to build a fish,” he said.
Other students in the class who placed at competition include:
4Mason Taunton, who took a gold in welding and will represent Arkansas in the national competition.
4Dylan Porter, who took a gold in pipe welding
4Devyn Hogan, who took a gold in job skills and will represent Arkansas in at nationals
4Kolten Hodge, who took a bronze in pipe welding
“We take great pride in our Welding Program here at UAM-CTC,” Dubose said.