Visual Arts

From Tiny Guns to Massive Structures, Welder Bonnie Gregory Brings the Heat

You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Bonnie Gregory grew up outside of Philadelphia, in “Mennonite country,” surrounded by lots and lots of farmland. “We really did make our own fun,” says Gregory. “We’d make our own bikes; I got more into it in my twenties, and I’d watch friends build motorcycles.”

Early on, Gregory learned the craft of welding, and she discovered something pretty cool.  “Steel is actually really feminine," she explains. "It’s really elegant. But it also has a lot of strength. You don’t have to overbuild something made out of steel, and I think women bring an interesting perspective to what steel can do and how to use it.”

Besides, welding is just plain fun. “It’s fire,” Gregory points out. “You’re sending molten filler rod into the steel, and sewing it together so it becomes one piece when you’re finished.” When a sculptor joins two pieces of wood together, the artist is left with separate – albeit connected – objects; with steel, she notes, “It becomes one piece. The process is really beautiful. It’s a complete synthesis of your materials.”

Gregory first came to Colorado to ski, but promptly relocated here in 2003. “I couldn’t believe I could live in the U.S. in such a beautiful place,” she says. The artist knows all about natural beauty; since moving to Colorado, she’s traveled to India and New Zealand, where she got into sailing and ended up shipwrecking a boat on a small island off the coast of Australia. (But that’s another story.)

“I ended up back here, got married and had kids,” says Gregory. “I’ve since traveled to New York and Iceland for work, but Colorado is home.”

Gregory snagged an apprenticeship in Denver and was building spaces around town: new restaurants, offices, homes. She also started collaborating with local artists on noteworthy projects, including “Shadow Array,” a timber design concept from Patrick Marold Design Studios, installed as part of the south-terminal redevelopment project at DIA.

“When the train is running from Union Station to the airport, it will go through the sculpture,” explains Gregory, noting that the project spans a whopping seven acres. Gregory was one of Marold’s welders, and she worked with the artist and his team for about a year to mount beetle-kill logs – some eighty feet long – onto steel saddles that Gregory built.  The finished installation, a massive ellipse, “looks kind of like a whale skeleton,” the welder says. “It’s monumental! I’m going to say that.”
Since finishing that, Gregory has moved from massive structural welds to a small-scale project that’s anything but slight. She is currently collaborating with artist Ravi Zupa, the mastermind behind “Mightier Than,” a project turning old typewriters into sculptures of guns. “We tear the typewriters apart and plan the guns and assemble them and weld them,” Gregory says. “We do all of the work in my shop.”

Zupa has been working on this project since 2005; Gregory came on board about a year and half ago. “Our guns have their own spirit,” she says. “The previous series was more assault riffles; these are collector's guns that are a little bit more nostalgic. The guns ours are based off of aren’t quite as aggressive.”

These two projects used very different techniques. “Shadow Array,” Gregory explains, "was built the same way you’d build a structure — a building, a bridge.” But for “Mightier Than,” the focus was on details “We’re using as little heat as possible because there are so many working parts," she says. "It’s almost surgical, compared to the structural welds.”

These differences “really do complement each other,” Gregory adds. “The better I am at the guns, the better I am at structural welds.”

What’s cool about welding, she continues, is the versatility: “We see it everywhere, and everyone interacts with it. Steel’s really a backbone of our culture.”

When Gregory isn’t working with other artists, she’s creating her own designs for furniture. “The things I’m passionate about building are the things people can live with in a really basic way,” she explains.
She builds mirrors, tables and shelves, with the goal of producing something that’s “really elegant and beautiful, but also has a lot of utility,” she says.

Want to check out her work? Take a look at the metal benches and tables at Crema Coffee House — Gregory did those. “I like working with neighborhood places, and places where I hang out a lot,” she says.

The artist also likes to give back, and she’s teaching her first-ever class at the Craftsman & Apprentice on Friday, April 21. The two-hour workshop will cover basic welding and electrical wiring, as participants make a reading lamp. There’s no previous experience required: “You just need curiosity,” Gregory says.

As far as Gregory is concerned, imparting skills to others is an important part of the trade. “I feel like the reason I’m a welder is because of my community,” she says. “I think if other people want to pursue one of the traditional trades, they should reach out to their community and then apprentice. I don’t think you need to be intimated by it, and I don’t think you need as much of a background as you’d think.”
For more information on Gregory and her work, visit her website
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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase