Longtime mechanic turns to metal art
Fourth-generation Routt County resident makes metal speak
March 5, 2005
Lynn Whaley clearly remembers the results of a career test he took in junior high school. The test said he would be a good “pattern maker.”
The only patterns Whaley knew about were patterns for clothing, and he was pretty sure he didn’t want to design clothes.
“I was really insulted — majorly insulted,” he said.
Now he laughs at the irony of that reaction, because he uses and makes patterns all the time.
Whaley is a metal artist. He starts with a thin piece of metal and draws a pattern on it — scenes with moose, elk and eagles, cowboys and cattle, vintage cars or horses.
Then he carves the design with a plasma cutter, grinds down the remaining metal for smoothness and texture, and uses a hot flame to turn portions of the metal a rainbow of colors.
He began making metal art about two years ago.
“I didn’t think that I had any artistic ability, actually,” Whaley said.
But looking at the pieces he has made so far, it’s clear that assumption was wrong.
Whaley does not just carve silhouettes and paint them black, like the craft pieces often seen in gift shops. He tried that once and hated it.
“It just doesn’t have the personality,” he said.
Instead, he makes the metal speak. In his horses, the colors and textures show the animals’ muscles straining and working, giving the perception that they are caught in the middle of action. The detail shows the coloring on their coats and the blazes on their heads.
His art can look different from different angles. A grizzly bear looks dark black from one angle, but when you walk to the other side, it glows white.
And his art is useful. His work has been used for fences, door hangings, signs, bed headboards, tables, headstones and more.
Whaley, a fourth-generation Routt County resident, grew up on his parents ranch before going to mechanic school. He worked four years at auto garages in Steamboat Springs, then got a job at the Edna Mine, where he worked more than 22 years as a mechanic.
In the mid-1990s, he went to Seneca mine, where he works now. He likely will leave the mining industry when that mine shuts down this year. Then, he said, he might make his art a full-time job.
His wife, Charlotte Whaley, said that, one day, her husband just “got this wild hair” and began making art. His dad’s gift of a plasma cutter a few years ago also helped.
It started, Lynn Whaley said, when he tore down the fence around their yard by accident. He figured he could make a better-looking fence than what had been up before.
He had a stonemason friend who helped him make a short stone fence, and then Whaley began to make metal art to go on top of the stones. His first piece now is over the gate of the fence. It shows a moose bugling to the moon and has the name “Whaley” at the top.
“I’ve always had the theory that if it can be done, I can do it,” Whaley said.
He gets his inspiration from photographs, drawings and his own experiences. He never makes the same thing twice — he might use similar animals, but he will redesign the background.
He’s had some strange requests for pieces. A man from Montana wanted a power plant in his scene because his state has a lot of those. Sometimes, Whaley will talk the customer out of some details, such as the power plant, but he always makes sure the art is customized for the person who’s receiving it.
The fence around the Whaleys’ front yard is a work of art, but it still is not finished. The front fence is decorated with wild animal scenes. He plans to do one side with transportation scenes — locomotives, chuck wagons, stagecoaches and maybe some vintage cars — and the second side will be scenes from the Old West — cowboys and Indians.
For him, the work is relaxing.
“It kind of bothers my wife, because I’ll get out here and get enjoying it so much. She’ll come out and say, ‘Supper is ready,'” Whaley said.
Some people might consider the work stressful because it requires patience and attention to the tiniest of details, but not Whaley.
“Why it isn’t (stressful) for me, I don’t know,” he said.
His mother enjoys teasing him now about that first career test, saying “‘Well, that’s what they said you’d do,'” Whaley said.
The truth of it is, it’s still a surprise to him.
“I never expected to do any of this,” he said.
To order a custom piece of metal art, call Lynn Whaley at 736-2249.