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The Michelangelo of Metal
Written by Ernie Quatrani, Correspondent
2021-07-28

Bill Nickerson turns scrap into art

 

            What do a shovel, a rake, two garden trowels and rebar add up to?

            If you are Bill Nickerson, they equal a bird. 

            Nickerson has been turning metal into art for the last several years, taking materials headed to the scrap heap and creating imaginative decorations that he sells at flea markets and community day events. He calls his hobby Crazy Critters.

Bill  Nickerson and Nancy Greger with their Crazy Critters set for sale at Jakes Flea Market on 

July 18.  The duo offer a variety of metal sculptures which include dogs, cats, crabs, pigs, frogs,

snowmen, and mre.

 

            "Most of the stuff that I do is out of horseshoes," said Nickerson, who has been a welder for 50 of his 63 years.

            "I get used horseshoes, and I just throw them on the table, and just start putting them together. I do frogs, dogs, cats, pumpkins, Christmas trees, snowmen, reindeer, crabs, turtles."

            Nickerson also makes pigs out of freon tanks, desk lamps out of auto engine

Sparks fly as Nickerson welds horse shoes, golf club 

heads, and a brace drill together to greate a dog.  Used

horseshoes are incorporated into many of Nickerson's 

creatiosns.

valve covers, and flowers using tin shears.

            Nickerson's supply of horseshoes comes from a Birdsboro supplier, who collects the shoes from farriers, and delivers them to Nickerson in a 55-gallon barrel which holds 500 to 600 shoes. Nickerson also gets shoes from a farrier in Pottstown.

            The first thing he does is rejuvenate the horseshoes.

            "I get an old cement mixer, I put a hundred pounds of sand in it, and a five-gallon bucket of horseshoes, and I put a door on the front, and I turn it on for four or five hours. It kind of tumbles them and they come out nice."

            Nickerson bought the mixer at an auction for $2 a few years ago.

            Rather than work on one product at a time, Nickerson produces 10 or 20 finished items at a clip.

            "It makes it easier, that way everything's in line. There is no rhyme or reason. I don't pick through the shoes. Whatever's there I just pick up and do it."

            He estimates it takes him on average about 20 minutes to complete a piece.

            Ideas come from observation, Google, and suggestions from customers. Nickerson started making cacti and owls out of horseshoes after patrons requested the items.

            Inspiration can also come from his part-time job delivering flowers for Wendy's

Nickerson searches through a pile of old golf clubs that

will be use in making a frog.

in Gilbertsville. Some of the flower arrangements seed an idea that can be translated into metal art.

            Nickerson sets up shop at Jake's Flea Market in Barto every weekend, weather permitting, and he has had displays at Upper Perkiomen Community Days.

            Most of Nickerson's wares go for $15 to $20. Cacti made from horseshoes go for $40 and $50 and the valve cover lights sell for $50-$80.

            "Cats and dogs, they're a big seller. People stand there for 10-15 minutes looking at the dogs that I do to find out which one looks like their dog. It's funny."

            There is no website to go to, but there is Nickerson's Facebook page.

            Sometimes people try to bargain with Nickerson, who has a large number of return customers, but the artist feels he is already offering fair prices - considering the time spent gathering materials, traveling, welding, painting, packing, and setting up at shows.

            "People don't understand what it takes. People say, 'Oh, you sit there'. I'm up at two-three o'clock in the morning going to these places. By noon, one o'clock, I'm done."

            Nickerson, a Red Hill native and a 1975 Upper Perk grad, learned welding from his father. He worked for Ryder Truck for nearly 40 years before it was sold to Dickinson Fleet Services. Nickerson stayed on and worked a few more years before retiring but still does freelance welding in addition to his delivery job with Wendy's.

            The idea for Crazy Critters started 10-12 years ago. "My girlfriend's dad used to do stuff like this. He stopped doing it, and then she started doing it for a little bit, and I just took over from there."

            The hobby almost came to an end with COVID-19.

            "I was going to stop doing it. Last year was kind of messed up for everybody, but I'm making almost three times as much as I was two years ago."

            So, how does a shovel, a rake, two garden trowels and rebar add up to a bird?

            The shovel is the neck and torso, the rake is the tail, the trowels the beak and the rebar the feet.

            Obviously.

            If you're Bill Nickerson.


 

 

 

 

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