Welding past and present

Dented frying pans, worn-out shock absorbers, a rusty bicycle chain — in almost anyone else’s garage it’s junk. In Andy White’s workshop, these artifacts become part of his artistic palette, essential ingredients for the next sculpture.

White, a research assistant professor in the S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at USC, grew up with a fascination for dinosaurs and a desire to make stuff. When he learned to weld, the two interests fused — and now there’s a metallic Tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops in his backyard.

“Art is not what I do to pay the bills,” White says. “But in the summer when I’m not doing archaeology, I get to turn my brain in a new direction and make something different.”

The T. rex is made of metal pieces he scrounged from neighborhood trash piles or salvaged from his own family’s belongings, the head fashioned from an antique boat motor fuel tank. The triceratops incorporates the frame of a bicycle one of his children once rode.

“A lot of these pieces are sentimental. I want to keep the past and the present around me, and in that sense these sculptures are like memory machines,” White says. “I hope my kids grow up with these memories around them, and they become part of the tapestry in their head of who they are and where they come from.”

White’s sculptures — which include such non-dinosaur specimens as a dragonfly, a rabbit and a snail — are amazingly true to form. But he keeps his sculpting toolkit simple: a couple of welding machines, a handheld grinder and a vise.

Several people have wanted to buy pieces he has made, but White hasn’t had much interest in selling. And while making three-dimensional art from stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill is the very picture of sustainability —it’s not sustainable long-term for his backyard: “I have only so much yard. If I keep doing this, I won’t be able to mow the grass.”

Still, he would like to make another T. rex, maybe a smaller “offspring” of the larger one he just completed. And perhaps another triceratops and a more ornate garden gate opening into his backyard sculpture garden.

White takes one more critical look at the T. rex, its lower jaw fashioned from a mailbox that bears the word “Renaissance” on the side. “This is like a renaissance,” he says, “using things from the past to create something new for the present.” If only he had a bigger yard…

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