From a small shop in the Detroit outlier of Mt. Clemens, Michigan, Josh Welton is making art from steel, fire, and grit. In a time when when the skilled labor that built America is being sidelined, Welton reminds us there’s significant value in little pools of molten metal. His work might just inspire the next generation of artisans.
Josh talked with us about his story, his city, his industry, and his art. He also generously shared some great photos. Enjoy the words and the spot-on welds, then get out in your garage and make something.
IMG: How did you get started? Was there an “Aha!” moment or an influential mentor?
JW: It just kind of happened. I was never the kid taking shop class or working in the garage, although my dad is an excellent mechanic and craftsman. I did well in high school, then went to college for 2+ years, but hated it. I met my wife at school, and through her dad landed a job at Mopar. In the time I was there, I had the opportunity to take the skilled trades test, and scored well. After our wedding, a move to California, and a move back to Michigan, I got the call that I’d be starting a millwright apprenticeship at Chrysler. That was late in the fall of 2002.
I struck my first arc sometime in November, and set myself on fire. I was hooked.
I knew as soon as I started welding that I had a talent and a desire to excel at it. At Chrysler there were several journeyman that had decades of experience and were always willing to let me pick their brains… Stan Krol, Steve Fedulchek, and especially Chris Bianco. Without those guys, and the guys at the UAW/Chrysler Training Center (Tom Soley, Fred Bernier, Larry Smith) I wouldn’t have been able to develop in the manner I did.
JW: The path I took wasn’t conventional, it was definitely more along the lines of “fate”. To actively pursue a career in welding, look into local community colleges and check out their trades programs. If they’ve got a decent program you’ll not only get the hands on training, but they should have connections in their area’s industry. The best programs will provide you with skilled training and networking for future jobs.
JW: I learned to weld in Detroit, in one of the few remaining Big 3 factories that operated inside the City Limits. Detroit as a city will ebb and flow, a little up and a lot down until something drastic changes… until the local government is ripped apart, until the economy diversifies, or until it completely implodes. Everyone knows that. But Detroiters are still proud of where they are from, because that type of environment breeds toughness. If you can make it here, you’ve overcome AND taken advantage of circumstances that are uniquely “Detroit”. Detroit is dirty, it’s fire, it’s metal. And so am I.
IMG: Your sculptures show a real appreciation for wheeled vehicles. What’s parked in your garage? What do you wish was parked there?
JW: I’m definitely a car guy. Over the years I’ve had a couple of Z-28s and a ’51 F1. Currently my driver is an ’09 Ram R/T (which we just took on a 6,929 mile road trip), and I have a ’70 Buick Electra 225 drop top. It was my gramps’ car, first car I ever drove! It’s currently at my buddy Keith’s shop (Ice Nine Customs), and I’m hoping to be cruising in it again next year. I dig motorized vehicles from every year and every genre… I’ll take one of each! Although, after taking my buddy’s twin turbo ’06 Viper for a spin earlier this year, that might be at the top of the list.
Have fun in your garage!