Artist Michael Call uses his welding skills to sculpt strikingly beautiful pieces made out of sheet metal.By Debra Lawless | Photography by Michael and Suz Karchmer
About a year ago, photographer Jeff Smith walked into a bay in a Harwich industrial park that he hoped to rent as a studio.
But to his surprise, the space was already rented to Michael Call of Envisioned Ironworks, and Call was hard at work welding a piece in the cavernous 25-by-50-foot space.
Taken aback, Smith looked around. “I spotted a steampunk lamp,” he says. “I bought it on the spot. I had never seen anything so cool in my life.”
In addition to repairing dump trucks and fishing gear, Call, 32, uses his welding skills to sculpt strikingly beautiful sea creatures such as fluke, cod, striped bass, albacore, bluefin tuna, haddock, bluefish, sea turtles, sperm whales and great white sharks out of scraps of sheet metal. The sculptures’ iridescence comes partly from eight coats of automotive-grade clear coat. If a collector wants to display something outside, Call will spray it with two additional coats of urethane to protect it from the elements.
Smith was so enamored with Call’s work that last winter, he arranged for Call’s first gallery show at oldCape Sotheby’s International Realty in Orleans, where Smith works as a sales associate. For two months, more than 40 of Call’s works decorated the office. His 4-foot-tall, iridescent Mekong carp—really a giant goldfish—sat between two brown chairs in front of a window.
“I’m envious of him because of the talent he has,” says Smith. “He’s really incredible.”
Call’s workshop in Bay No. 6, in a strip near the Harwich Transfer Station, is a daunting place. It will take you a couple of minutes to ignore the smell of paint, to run your eyes past the disarray on the tables and the dusty tools that Call either found at the dump or made himself. Call stands in the midst of this chaos—“I know where everything is,” he says—sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
Behind Call, luminous fish of various sizes hang on the wall. A large steampunk squid sits on a high shelf. Call points to his latest creation, a 7-foot-tall humpback whale’s tail weighing 600 pounds. The privately commissioned piece is soon heading to Plymouth.
“I like doing big sculptures, one-off stuff,” Call says. The tail represents 90 hours of work.
To create his sea creatures, he begins with a sheet of steel. He draws a shape with a paint pen, cuts it out, bends and forms it, and then welds it. One of his breakthroughs came with the iridescent red he achieved through a secret process involving rust dust. Yard-long fish sell for between $200 and $400 and each piece is unique.
As a child, Call sketched, and an aunt gave him books on Picasso and Monet. He went on to study welding and horticulture at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich. A welding teacher there, Michael Kacergis, who has a gallery in Provincetown, inspired Call to segue into art. His first sculpture was a dinosaur made of screws, nuts and bolts. He has no formal schooling in art.
Call, who lives in Dennis with his wife and 6-year-old son, loves to fashion sea creatures, but he is up for any sculptural challenge. He often works until 1:30 a.m. in Bay No. 6, listening to Bob Marley turned way up so that the reggae bounces off the walls and the 20-foot ceiling.
“Every artist is a little bit nuts in that way—my mind can’t rest,” he says. “I’m always thinking of what I can do.”
Michael Call’s fish are available for sale at Cape Fishermen’s Supply, Inc., 67 Depot Road, Chatham. For information on custom work, visit Envisioned Ironworks on Facebook or Instagram or contact Call at 774-353-6233.