Jessie Cargas, Rosebud, has had a turnaround in her way of thinking over the last four years.
A math and science teacher for three decades, Cargas long led a life ruled by logic. Today, it’s quite the opposite.
As a working metal sculpture artist, Cargas views the world with more creativity, and it’s a great feeling, she said.
“I didn’t understand art for the longest time, but now I see it’s so important,” she remarked. “So much of the world is logic and thinking . . .”
The world needs art to balance that.
Her life is much more free, and she enjoys her work so much that she spends seven days a week in her home shop/studio and rarely takes a vacation.
“I just don’t feel the need to get away,” she said.
“This feels like a vacation,” she added, gesturing to the view from her front porch looking out over 80 acres.
Cargas, who grew up in St. Louis and moved to Rosebud 16 years ago, said it was her part-time job teaching at a trade school that started her on her path as an artist. It’s where she was introduced to welding, and she was drawn to it.
She began asking questions about the craft, watching YouTube videos and doing hands-on practice.
“I just learned from whoever I could, the instructors there, anybody I could,” said Cargas. “Then I would practice, pratice, practice, YouTube, YouTube, YouTube, and then more practice.”
As her work improved, she found herself teaching less and less and making sculptures more and more.
Today Cargas works almost exclusively as an artist with her business, Weld Made Art Works, LLC.
Her sculptures, which include ones that set on tables or stand on the floor, some that are mounted to the wall or others that hang from the ceiling, are sold in four galleries across Missouri, including Knox Gallery in Richmond Heights, Art St. Louis, Capitol Arts in Jefferson City and Oral Reeves, in Rolla.
She also sells pieces at a number of art shows, and in the past has been featured at both the Fall Festival of the Arts and Crafts and Art Fair, Winefest in Downtown Washington.
One of her upcoming shows will be the Endangered Wolf Center’s annual Wolf Fest set for Saturday, Oct. 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center, 6750 Tyson Valley Road, Eureka.
Recently Cargas was accepted as a juried artist with Best of Missouri Hands, a statewide nonprofit organization “dedicated to the development and recognition of Missouri’s arts and artisans through education, interaction and encouragement.”
Being accepted as a juried member is a certification of quality work. It indicates that an artisan has developed his or her craft beyond mere competence of technique to a high standard of quality, according to Best of Missouri Hands.
Cargas’ former life as a math and science teacher doesn’t come into play much in her work as an artist, although her knowledge and understanding of metals and geometry probably helps.
“I’m dealing with balance a lot right now. I’ve been working on this (moons sculpture) today, dealing with balance, because if it doesn’t balance, it’s going to fall over,” she said.
Her Creative Process
Cargas creates all of her sculptures in her garage that serves as a shop/studio.
Her ideas for new pieces have come from just about anything. Even something as simple as the shadow cast by one of her patio chairs can spark her imagination.
“I get inspired by anything really,” said Cargas. “Just when I’m having coffee out here in the morning, something will hit.”
The process from idea to finished sculpture is pretty much always the same for her. She sketches out her idea, sometimes with paper and pencil and then with AutoCAD (computer-aided drafting) software. She sends her computer drawings to a metal fabricating company like Haslag Steel or Stork Fabricators and they cut the pieces she needs to her specifications.
She works mainly with regular steel, not stainless or aluminum, at least not yet anyway.
Once she gets the pieces in her shop, they have to be cleaned, grinded and sanded before she can begin the creative process.
That often includes rolling or bending the metal pieces before she welds them together as one.
Cargas mainly uses three pieces of equipment to create her sculptures — a welding machine, sandblaster and an industrial-age slip roller that looks like it came straight out of a factory in the 1800s.
“This is my baby,” Cargas said, smiling, as she demonstrated how the slip roller works. “It’s ancient, but it’s not going to break down.”
In the early days of her art career, Cargas made a simple stand-like device that could hold metal pieces for bending and shaping, but that only worked with thinner pieces of metal, she explained.
“I wanted to roll thicker pieces of metal, and I couldn’t find anything except for these electrical machines that start at $10,000,” said Cargas.
She found the old-fashioned slip roller on CraigsList and purchased it from someone in Illinois who had a lot of metalworking equipment.
“It’s not the most accurate, but I just do art, so it doesn’t have to be so precise. And if I do something wrong, I’ll just make something else from it,” said Cargas.
A tractor was needed to get the slip roller loaded on and off the U-Haul trailer Cargas used to move it.
“Two big huge guys couldn’t even budge it,” she commented.
Even with a design in mind and plan at hand, there are times when a piece just doesn’t come together the way she envisioned.
“I get in the garage, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way it’s pictured in my mind. Sometimes it does. Or I have a different idea,” said Cargas. “Things occur to me as I’m working.”
The final step for all of Cargas’ pieces is the finishing. Very often she sends them off to be powder coated by a company like Select Powder Coating in Union.
Circles, Wavy Squares, Turnabouts
Some of Cargas’ most popular designs are her circle pieces, wavy squares and something she calls Turnabouts.
“I’m not real creative when it comes to naming these things,” said Cargas, with a laugh.
Her website, weldmadeart.com, showcases the variety of pieces she has created. She also does commission work.
Cargas’ pieces range in price from $30 up to several hundred. Each piece is signed and dated in permanent marker.
This time of year, as students and teachers everywhere are headed back to the classroom, Cargas is happy to be spending more and more time in her shop/studio. Although she wouldn’t say which life is better — working as a full-time teacher or as a sculpture artist, since the work is just too different to compare — she couldn’t be happier with where she is today.
“I’ve taught for 30 years, and it’s been fine, but I really like this. It’s really enjoyable,” Cargas remarked.
For more information, visit www.weldmadeart.com or contact Cargas at 314-960-1684.