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Sculpting Steel

by Sally Alt + photos by Chris Jackson

Steel Sculpting

Scott Cawood brings new life to scrap metal.

Two massive heads made out of steel rods greet me as I walk into Scott Cawood’s studio in Antietam, Maryland. The sculptor, wearing a warm jacket, a hat, and a welding visor, offers a smile and a handshake. Nearby, a pile of bicycle handlebars sprawls over a table.

Scott had been busy working on sculptures of two cyclists’ heads, which he calls “Dream Machines; Climb & Glide.” He plans to use bicycle chains and handlebars for the hair, and fenders to represent bicycle helmets. When they are finished, the sculptures will be installed at the Frostburg Sculpture Garden near the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail.

An Organic Approach

In the beginning stages of working on a piece, Scott says he starts out with a certain direction, but it changes quite a bit while he is sculpting. He finds that the sculpture usually guides his creative process. In the creation stage, Scott first makes a cage-like structure by bending and shaping steel rods on his anvil with his hammer and then welds them together to produce a basic form. Next, he traces a design on paper and draws this shape on the sheet steel with chalk. Scott then cuts out the metal, shapes it with a hammer and anvil, and welds it onto another metal piece, making adjustments to the sculpture as needed.

This process has worked for Scott for more than 20 years of metal sculpting, and has led him to create elaborate metal sculptures that have been exhibited in New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans and other cities. His “Rise Up” sculpture of a 10-foot woman and man holding up a child was unveiled in September at the Center for Joint Surgery and Sports Medicine in Hagerstown. The piece, made from scrap steel, incorporates auto parts and medical prostheses to offer inspiration to individuals with medical and orthopedic challenges.

“I knew I wanted some type of signature piece to set us apart,” says Dr. Ralph Salvagno who commissioned the piece that took 18 months to complete. During the process Scott never failed to engender a sense of trust by letting his client know what he was thinking and where he was going. In the end, Dr. Salvagno couldn’t be happier. “His vision of this went far beyond what I had imagined,” he says.

When asked how he decided to become a metal sculptor, Scott responded that when he was young, he had no idea that he wanted to become an artist. “Art wasn’t a part of my growing up,” he says. Scott didn’t learn about art until much later as an adult when he started spending time in art museums. Looking at other artists’ work inspired him to begin making his own sculptures. He was surprised to find that people loved his work, he says.

When he began sculpting, Scott says, “It was like falling in love for the first time.” He adds, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier.”

Born in Baltimore, he learned how to work with metal during a four-year stint in the US Coast Guard. “I was really good at it,” he says. Scott later attended blacksmithing school in Santa Fe, N.M. “I still use blacksmithing techniques all the time,” he says.

During different phases of his career, Scott has focused his art on a variety of themes. When he first started making sculptures, he wanted to “bring life into junk,” he says, and later became interested in expressing human emotion through the sculptures of figures.

Often working 10-12 hour days when he is in the middle of a project, Scott says his work is demanding, because sculpting requires a lot of attention and focus. The work ethic he learned while growing up in a blue-collar family has served him well.

While at work, Scott listens to a lot of music. When first starting a piece, he’ll sometimes work in silence, or listen to classical, but tunes into upbeat music when a project is rolling. While working on the finishing process of “Rise Up,” Cawood listened to David Bowie for six months. “It just got me completely energized,” he says.

Inside his home, a short walk from the studio, Cawood shows off four Mississippi Delta Bluesmen sculptures of musicians Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White, Walter E. “Furry” Lewis, Eddie James “Son” House, Jr., and Mississippi John Hurt. “They are actually great artists,” he says, “but since they were poor black people, they never really got much recognition.” Scott is considering applying for a grant to be able to sculpt more figures of the bluesmen to exhibit at the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi.

The figures are created out of scrap metal with a pitted texture that he gets from old oil tanks that sit beside many local houses. “Everybody is getting rid of them,” he says. The high quality steel from the oil tanks can create very tight folds in his sculptures without breaking.

Also on display at Scott’s house are sculptures of women’s shoes that are shaped as sharks, anglerfish, and crocodiles. The sculptures are part of his “Maneaters” series, which was inspired by Crocs footwear. He also created nightingale bird sculptures to raise money for the Maryland Food Bank. So far, he has earned more than $2,000 for the food bank.

Cawood used to forage in junkyards and scrapyards to find metal for his sculptures. Now, people bring him materials at his open studio the first Saturday of every month. “Somebody always shows up with something for me,” he says.

The type of material he uses for a project significantly influences its outcome, he says. “You have to work with what you’ve got or what you can get,” Scott says.

The Fat of His Land

The goal is to keep making sculptures and to continue to grow as an artist, focusing on creating great pieces of art instead of making money. “I live very simply and close to the earth, so I don’t need much,” he says, as evidenced by his other passion, organic gardening. Scott says he enjoys growing flowers and vegetables, which provide a balance with his work with steel.

Currently, Scott creates most of his sculptures on a commission basis, and he works closely with clients to solicit their ideas. Clients can get involved by visiting his studio to see the project as he is working on it, he says.

Scott has an open studio event on the first Saturday of each month from 12–5 p.m. He encourages people to come to these events to experience his art in the place where he creates it. To understand his work, Scott says, “You’ve got to see my scrap pile.”

Scott Cawood Sculptures