by Jo Barnes –
Like in mythical tales of sailors being captivated by the sight of mermaids, this local artist’s creations will captivate you with their whimsical features and magical qualities.
Karen Lancey of Metal Mermaid Welding in North Saanich brings life to recycled items by transforming them through a welding process into stunning pieces of art depicting mermaids and a wide variety of other themes.
“Years ago I bought a sheet of metal,” shares Karen. “I thought I’d make a mermaid. I made her life-size, my size, and I seated her on my bench.”
When Karen first moved to Victoria, she was doing commercial artwork while raising her young children. The process of welding appealed to her and so she bought the equipment and constructed a cedar shed in which to do her work.
“I had seen others welding; I watched and asked questions,” says Karen, adding: “I am pretty much self-taught.”
Welding opened up a whole new medium for expression. “Flat is boring,” says Karen. “I am a 3D artist.”
She has always been interested in nature themes. Many of her creations are animals such horses, rabbits or turtles. Of particular interest to her is the ocean and marine life. “You’ll see kelp, fish and the ocean elements in all the mermaids I do,” says Karen.
Unique to her creations are the materials she uses, which include items from the junkyard, beachside, or even donations from others.
“My neighbours drop off tire rims or boxes of cutlery,” says Karen. “I use recycled metal, things people discard, and I give them a second life,” she says.
Karen has the ability to see beyond the item itself. “One item looks familiar. I might see the sweep of a dog’s back, a cat’s paw, or the bottom of a horse jaw,” shares Karen. “I don’t know what the final product will look like, but it starts with one vision.”
Karen’s love of making things goes back to childhood days. “The very first thing I sold was to my school principal! It was a painting,” says Karen.
After completing four years in Commercial Art and Graphic Design at Alberta College of Design, Karen began working in the commercial art field in Vancouver. Subsequently she started her own business focusing on 2D and 3D display work in the retail field including commercial scale projects like window dressing displays for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Her creativity and desire for challenge has taken her into unique job settings with unusual job responsibilities. “I love trying things,” comments Karen. “I pour myself into this work.”
She worked for a funeral home transposing images to cemetery stones. She painted fibreglass dinosaurs at the Calgary Zoo, worked on museum exhibits, created backdrops for fashion shows, and for the past eight years has rented and sold her art to the movie industry in Victoria.
“Recently, I was asked to make a bear cage for a local film,” shares Karen.
Working with metal is specialized work. Karen uses a plasma cutter, a device that cuts through metal by means of an accelerated jet of ionized gas called plasma. It is precision work that takes practise. Health and safety measures are top of mind. Karen must wear safety clothing including a welding mask, leather gloves, boots and coveralls and contends with fumes and gases on a daily basis. Some artists would shy away from this kind of work, but Karen enjoys the challenge and the possibilities.
“I’m working with metal; there are so many shapes and textures. I really love it,” says Karen, adding with a laugh: “But often I have to remind myself not to touch anything hot!”
Like other artists during this pandemic, the loss of community events and opportunities to connect with potential customers has been tough. For Karen, it’s essential to stay positive and continue in her creativity.
“Art shows were cancelled, but people have somehow been finding me. We did a COVID-safe open garden tour, and I had many of my creations on display. People supported me and bought pieces,” shares Karen. “It’s the old saying: if you keep on building it, they will come.”
Perhaps you’re looking for a special Christmas gift this year. Karen’s creations might just be that wonderful piece of whimsy you’re wanting. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and through her website: www.metalmermaid.com.
How people respond to her art is something that’s satisfying and motivating for Karen. “I love watching people when they see my art. They smile or they laugh. It touches them,” says Karen. “It’s very personal for me.”
Karen’s metal creations will start a conversation, capture your attention and perhaps, with their whimsical design, capture your heart.
Photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography