THOMASVILLE, N.C. (AP) — By his own admission, Jerry “J.J.” Ring doesn’t exactly look like an artist.
The 38-year-old Thomasville man, a welder and metal fabricator by trade, is a burly-looking fellow whose rough-edged appearance might intimidate you in some other context. He’s bald, bearded and heavily tattooed. He rides motorcycles and has spent much of his life hanging out in garages, where he uses his welding and fabricating prowess to build racecars and such.
There’s another side to J.J. Ring, though. When he’s not busy welding hunks of sheet metal together, he’s fusing his metalworking skills with his innate sense of creativity to transform horseshoes and other metals into works of art and functional household items — everything from decorative Christmas trees and snowmen to unique wine racks and boot racks.
“I take requests and make custom things out of metal, too,” Ring says. “If you have an idea — if somebody comes up and says, ‘Can you make me a metal elephant?’ — My answer is yes. Now, how I’m going to make it isn’t determined until I get out in the shop and start working on it, but I can make it.”
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That confidence comes from more than two decades of welding and fabricating experience dating back to Ring’s childhood. He learned metalworking from his father, Jerry Ring Sr., who was a welder and pipefitter in the shipyard at Newport News, Virginia, and later worked in various racing garages.
“He was always the guy they would call if they needed some roll bars put in or if they needed a seat mounted,” Ring says. “I would tag along and watch, so I’ve been interested in metalwork ever since.”
He took welding in high school and built his first racecar when he was about 16, using the skills he’d learned from his dad. After graduating from East Davidson High School in 1997, he attended Catawba Valley Community College, where he took a motorsports fabrication class.
“But I had already been working at a race shop welding and fabricating, so I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class,” he says with a chuckle. “People were actually coming to me with their questions.”
Ring was in his mid-20s when he first began using horseshoes to make various objects.
“Everybody knew I could weld and do metalwork,” he recalls. “A good friend of mine had horses, and his mom would say, ‘Hey, can you make this for me? I saw this made out of horseshoes — could you do that?’ I said I could if I had some horseshoes, so they started bringing me horseshoes, and that’s how this all started. I would make different figurines — roping cowboys or a guy holding a fishing pole or a candy dish bucket — and I eventually made a few things that I tried to sell, but it was hit or miss.”
Ring dabbled with his creations through the years, but he has really picked up steam in the past few weeks — spending long hours in his shop and participating in multiple arts and crafts shows — since being laid off from his fulltime job at Richard Childress Racing.
“I’ve kind of been labeled the horseshoe guy because I make so much stuff out of horseshoes,” Ring says. “I don’t want to be limited to just horseshoes, though. I’m a metalworker — a metal fabricator — but I do a lot with horseshoes because they’re readily available.”
Ring gets his horseshoes from a farrier friend of his, who gives him old horseshoes in exchange for help with occasional welding projects.
As Ring says, he can and does make other items — he used an old railroad spike to make a golfer figurine, for example — but horseshoes are definitely his lucky material for catching the eye of shoppers.
This time of year, Ring’s Christmas trees and snowmen — both fashioned from horseshoes that he welds together — are among his most popular items. He hangs small red and green ornaments from each horseshoe in the Christmas tree, and adorns the snowmen with hats and scarves.
Other horseshoe items in Ring’s repertoire include wine racks, boot racks, decorative pumpkins, flowers (with horseshoe petals), hearts and wine glass holders.
Ring also welds horseshoes together to spell words, such as DREAM, HOPE, LOVE, WELCOME and even AMAZING GRACE. He also can make custom words of your choosing.
“I do a lot of kids’ names and people’s last names, things of that nature,” he says. “They’re pretty popular.”
Prices vary for Ring’s products. The Christmas trees, for example, which stand nearly 3 feet tall, sell for $65, but smaller items are about half that much. For words, he charges $8 to $10 a letter, less for easily formed letters such as C’s and U’s.
“People don’t realize the time that goes into making these things,” he says. “They don’t realize I have a shop, I have a welder, I have a sandblaster, I have an air compressor, I have lights, I have grinding disks, all kinds of stuff like that. And that’s not even counting my time that I put into it. There’s a whole lot that goes into crafting that people take for granted.”
Information from: High Point Enterprise, http://www.hpenews.com