Carrying a torch: Metalworker Rex Mayhugh turns welding skill into artistry

October 2013 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, People
Metal artist Rex Mayhugh

Metal artist Rex Mayhugh

By Brenna Wiegand

The seed of Rex Mayhugh’s ornamental metalwork business was planted a couple years ago when his wife requested tomato supports for her productive vegetable garden at their Howell Prairie family farm.

Now he’s at work on a 16-foot gate adorned with a huge branching tree with detailed bark, cutout leaves and both a foreground and background.

Though both his father and grandfather were artists in their own right, Mayhugh wonders if his art form has to do with the welder who used to let Mayhugh and other local kids hang around the shop, mesmerized by the flying sparks and the curious blend of burning metal and Camel cigarettes.

As a teen, after saying “no thanks” to being a fourth-generation sawmill worker, Mayhugh hit the road and soon found doors opening into the welding trade. He has 16 years of experience under his belt.

“You just never run out of opportunities to learn because it’s such a vast trade,” he said. “It’s so diversified that you can do it about anywhere.”

Gardener’s Anvil
Rex Mayhugh, 503-302-3580, is open to
creative commissions and also accepts
scrap metal donations.

Mayhugh employs a lot of found metal in his work – brass, copper, mild steel.

“I get excited about patinas and stuff,” he said. “There are different kinds of rust – cool coppers and brass colors – sand it down; put a patina on it then a clear seal. I love playing with different chemical applications and cutting out ornate shapes.”

Thus far his business has been word of mouth, though he plans to look into being a vendor at the traditional German Christmas Market The Oregon Garden is hosting weekends Nov. 29-Dec. 22.

“One of the biggest challenges is trying to step inside people’s imaginations because my goal is to make people happy, happy, happy.”

Rex Mayhugh and project commissioner Gabriel Ramirez.

Rex Mayhugh and project commissioner Gabriel Ramirez.

Gabriel Ramirez commissioned Mayhugh to create a  gate to be run electronically to replace a manual cyclone gate.

“My wife (Dr. Yara Delgado) is an OB doctor in Mount Angel and has to go out at all hours, in the rain and in the dark,” Ramirez said. “We figured as long as we’re making an automatic instead of putting controllers onto chain link we could actually invest in a gate, so we saved up and finally decided this year we’re going to do it.”

In the process, Rameriz and Mayhugh forged a friendship. They are collaborating on a design devoid of straight lines save for its sides and bottom.

“Landscape is always in motion, you know,” Mayhugh said. “You have the plowing season and you have grass growing and you have a harvest season.

“I’ve got this idea of making 12 gates for the calendar year – each one a canvas where I can put my ideas into a sculpture-type organic setting – I already have ideas for a hazelnut tree.”

Trying to keep his family of four boys fed while pursuing his passion keeps Mayhugh scrambling from standard welding work to handyman services to farm gigs.

“This whole thing’s been birthed out of finally having enough desire and a lot of faith and support from my wife,” he said. “So many times I just want to throw down the towel and go back to a paycheck job.”

“He works really hard, 12 hours a lot of days,” Anita Mayhugh said. “He’s got this talent and he’s got to use it.”

“There was a guy in Silverton named John Russell that had the garden gate shop,” Mayhugh said.

“He was a bit of a rough guy but he had a gift and had just gotten to a place where his gift was coming open and he died of cancer. I still drive around and look at some of the signs downtown – those were things he left behind, you know? We can’t take it with us but hopefully we’ll leave good stuff behind.”

Metal provides all-season outdoor interest
Metalwork is a tried and true garden enhancer.“I use a lot of gates for privacy issues and also a lot of ornamental gates to create ‘rooms’ in yards,” said Ron Thompson of Thompson Landscape Designs & Interiors, Silverton.

“Instead of just a common-ground area, when I do design work I will use gates and things like that to designate passing from one area into another. It is kind of an English concept that gives a garden a lot more interest, and I often use ornamental wrought iron.”

There’s the big stuff that looks great the year through: entrance gates, arbors, gazebos, benches, trellises. Thompson said sometimes he will top a large stone column with a metal dome or cap.

These form the basis for the year-round interest desirable to most homeowners and gardeners.

Wrought iron forms the corbels that support giant flower baskets along Silverton and Mount Angel sidewalks each year; it’s indispensable for displaying any number of garden features – container plantings, pottery, birdbaths, gazing balls. Wrought iron is also earning its way into many high-end homes, Thompson said.

“I’ve got a gentleman making some interesting poles and things for the interior of a house; the art of making interesting handles and tying beams and things together using, a lot of times, used wrought iron work,” he added.

“When I draft or do hardscapes I think of everything around your residence that you usually walk on – driveway, sidewalks, patios – any outdoor living area,” Thompson added. “There are so many varieties of cement work, pavers and slates that we use now in designing people’s homes.”

– Brenna Wiegand

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