If you were a fly on the wall of Nanette Bishop’s studio/garage, you would assume a man worked there – machinery, tools, and metal pieces are scattered about.
When she enters, she puts on a cotton sweater (nylon will melt), a heavy apron, thick gloves, and a welder’s helmet. Looking a little like an extra in a science fiction movie, she buzzes rust off metal with a grinder, cuts metal with controlled lightning off the end of a plasma cutter, and causes fireworks with a welder until the scrap metal is transformed into a work of art.
“It really is a man’s world,” Bishop said. “When I go to a store and start asking questions about a tool or something, I get strange looks like ‘What’s a little girl like you doing in a place like this?’ ”
When she began learning how to work with metal a couple of years ago, she almost quit. “The gloves they had were all designed for large hands. The pair I selected left a lot of room at the fingertips. The grinder I was handling caught the tip of the glove and pulled my finger in. I lost a large chunk of my finger and a fingernail.”
Instead of quitting, she slapped on a bandage and now, she’s a pro, handling tools with ease. “The hardest thing is maintaining the equipment.”
The final pieces turn into stars, moons, suns and flowers left rusty or coated with enamel paint. Sometimes the carved metal frames glass balls, round slabs of glass or the occasional sink drainer. The pieces are staked into the ground with rebar or dangle from a chain to hang in the window. One huge piece that stands freely in the yard of her North Side home shows a sun and moon rising.
Bishop has always used art as a way of expressing herself. “I think the creative process is necessary for my existence,” she said. “I did art as therapy to exorcise my personal demons.”
Now settled into a life that she loves as a real estate agent, wife, mother and artist, her art has become an expression of joy.
“The art is no longer an exorcism for me,” she said. “I love my life with my husband; my real estate career is going crazy; I’m one of the lucky ones. I think my state of being is reflected in the art, it’s not heavy or dark; there is no pain there. My hope is that it’s lots of sunshine and light, flowers and the moon and stars. It’s all good.”
Bishop’s sculptures are in gardens throughout the area. She shows and sells them at garden shops, at the Little Garden Café, 2901 Northwest Blvd., and regularly at the Gallery of Thum, 2910 N. Monroe St. Soon, she will have her work at Caterina Winery, 905 N. Washington St.
“Working with metal is cathartic,” she said, “I get to hammer on things and get dirty. I look at a piece of discarded metal and see the possibilities, no limitations. I respect the possibility of the pain, the potential burns or loss of a finger or eye. I respect the equipment and so my left brain is fully engaged in the safety and that frees my right brain to be 100 percent engaged in the creative process.”
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