Person of the Week

Joe Groceman

Welder, Small Metal Sculpture Artist

When I first got into welding, I was working a lot of hours. I realized that I was using my creative end of it as an outlet for me to let go of the hours worked and apply it to something creative…. metal sculptures… whimsical… motion trapped in time.

1.  What led you to the mission of being a welder and small metal sculpture artist?

I’ve been welding for thirty-two years.  I am a graduate of Rankin.   I do inside fabrication at a job shop.  What this means is that they bid Joe Grocemanjobs and fabricate inside a building.  We do a lot of work for John Deere and Caterpillar Tractor.  We do specialized work.  We actually do the welding and whatever needs to be done along the main forms of welding – MIG and TIG. TIG is tungsten inert gas and MIG is metal inert gas.  These are the two forms of welding that we do.  We do some stick welding which is done with a rod.   We do a lot of repair work.  We fabricate a lot of equipment that goes on tractors.  A lot is assembly, and a lot specialty stuff.

I describe my art as whimsical motion trapped in time.  A lot of my pieces are about humor.  Hopefully they will make you chuckle or Joe Groceman welder 5make you think a bit.  That’s the way my brain works – to put the work out the way I like.  I got into steel sculptures (actually I didn’t realize it) as art therapy.  When I first got into the welding trade, we had to work mandatory ten hours a day, six, seven days a week.  You have to work.  If the company requires you to do that, you have to do that and it is in the contract.  You get paid for it – time and half or double time – things like that.  But now it is mandatory that you are off every other weekend.

When I first got into welding, I was working a lot of hours.  It was really wearing on me.  I was just playing with metal, bringing it Joe Groceman welder 3home, working on it — stuff like that.  Then I realized that I was using my creative end of it as an outlet for me to let go of the hours worked and apply it to something creative.  I was inspired to do whimsical.  Since I have high energy – like I dance a lot – I like making motion trapped in time.  A lot of my pieces are something moving that stops – funky and weird too!  I wanted to have someone look at it and think about what that is.  If they have to think about it – I’ve done what I want it to do.  It’s a piece of art!

My dad was a tool and die maker.  I wasn’t interested in tool and die Joe Groceman welder 6making, but I liked to weld on the dies and things like that.  That’s a bit of an art in and of itself.  I got attracted to the way the metal pools. I caught on to it pretty quick and I liked it so I went with it.

I went to two years night school at Rankin Tech.  Basically what they do is oxy-acetylene welding. We actually used a flame and torch.  For the first year we got into a lot of brazing and things like that.  In the second year we got into stick welding where we used the rods.  We learned the MIG and TIG welding processes.  I got on the job training as I went to school.  I worked at a major fabricator in St. Louis, Missouri.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

I’m a skilled tradesman.  It means a lot of different things.  I get good benefits and I like that part of it.  It is a union shop and that is good.  I get a pension.  I’m grateful for that.

3.  What was your best day as a welder and small metal sculpture artist?

I’d probably have to say it was actually when I first started to weld and was seventeen or eighteen years old.  My dad taught me a little Joe Groceman welder 2bit.  Probably those years working with him a little bit – learning from my dad – were the first memories and some of the best memories.  He was an interesting person.  He was always working.  He was a workaholic – something I am not.  He would work a full time job and do side jobs.  He would build things and what not.  He would build structures and me and my brothers would work with him.  We would go out to a job site where he was working after night – after he finished his regular job.  I learned to repair things, welding, and building things with him.  That was when I first got into this with him.

My best day for art is when I’ve had a few days off my regular job and Joe Groceman welder 7I’m coming down, comfortable, feeling good.  That’s when the creative thing gets going.  That’s when I can put things down on metal.  I lay the pieces out on my bench and just make it all come together.  A lot of my stuff is found objects just laying in dumpsters – scrap dumpsters.  I look and see something that other people maybe don’t see.  A lot of them get started when I create faces and things when I am grinding the metal.

4.  What was your worst day as a welder and small metal sculpture artist?

July and August every year.  It would be the worst months of the year.  It’s not a very fun time of year.  That’s the hard part.  It’s humidity.  It’s very bad.  When you work in a steel plant, there is Unknownother machinery that creates heat.  There’s a laser cutter, steel movers, forklifts – whatever.  Everything creates heat.  It’s in a building that is basically like a sweatbox.  If you don’t have good ventilation going through it, it is sometimes hard to do that.

If you are familiar with welding, you have to wear clothing – sometimes you have to wear leathers.  You wear leathers and things welderlike that sometimes and that creates heat too.  That’s like putting on a coat in the summertime.  It can be hot.

One good thing about that is that OSHA has created a lot of rules about trying to get the air clean.  Which is a good thing.  It’s not as bad as it used to be.

My worst day as an artist is when I’m feeling like dancing.  I do folk dance, contra dance, swing dance.  Dance.  Waltz.  That’s my true passion. I dance with a group.  Then I don’t do art, I dance.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

Water.  If you don’t have good hydration, you are going to run into trouble.  You have to figure out what your body needs when you work Joe Groceman welder 4in that environment.  You have to listen to your body.  That’s a lot of it.  Don’t overdue it.

It can be a hard trade.  It can be dangerous because you are going to be working around steel.  Steel can be heavy.  Steel can be sharp.  You gotta respect it.  If you don’t, you’re going to run into trouble.  If you are thinking about it, you have to have a good work ethic.  You gotta be willing to work with the elements.  If you have the desire to work with steel and molten metal, building things, and creating things out of steel – it is a good thing.  It can be fun.  It can be rewarding.  But it can be tough.  Depending on what you get into, you could make good money.  Now it’s limited and it is specialized with computers and stuff like that, which is fine, but that’s the way it is going.  If you are going to do the straight welding stuff, I would say get into a shop and have a determination and joy for wanting to do welding.

I’m just grateful I can do this art work and make things on the fly and make people smile and chuckle – but if it makes me chuckle and I get something out of it – that’s what I like to do!