As the ground freezes in the wintertime, the fencing business slows down in the High Country, but workers at Strategic Fence & Wall in Breckenridge have found a way to keep idle hands busy. Scrapped lengths of tube steel, leftover buckets of nuts and washers from past fencing projects and discarded items such as railroad spikes and horseshoes are transformed into welded spheres that decorate the yard of the shop and the garden of the business’ owner, Fez Fairfield-Smith.
Fairfield-Smith, who has lived in the county since 1982, said the project began last year when the crew was cleaning the shop and thought they would take advantage of some of the scrap metal that was lying around. They began welding the items and rods into spheres, and the industrial art was born.
“The nut ball,” Fairfield-Smith said, gesturing to a smaller piece sitting in the yard. “We had a couple of buckets of those nuts, just sitting there, no particular place they were going to go.”
Through a process of trial and error — “I tried to do one around a bicycle wheel; that didn’t go so well” — Fairfield-Smith, his son Hugh and co-worker Jose Roque-Avila have built more than two dozen sculptures, all from material that otherwise would have landed in the scrapheap.
Fairfield-Smith wanted to try his hand at welded spheres after he returned from a trip to Australia.
“In the area where I grew up in Australia, there’s a ball next to the road — just made of steel — that was my inspiration,” he said.
Depending on the size and medium, a sphere can take anywhere from one hour to an entire eight-hour day to complete. The small sculptures made of washers come together the easiest, and the tube steel and horseshoe pieces take longer because the pipe has to be cut to length and the nails have to be removed from the horseshoes.
“The farrier doesn’t like to pull the nails out — why would he? — so we have to pull the nails out, which takes about as long as it does to build the ball,” Fairfield-Smith said.
The hardest part of each sculpture is creating the round shape. The spheres range from 14 inches in diameter to 21 inches, and Fairfield-Smith said he’s striving for 36-inch and 48-inch sizes now that he has his process dialed in. He’s also adding stands to display the spheres and interior lights, and he’s looking into paint colors with a powder coater.
“I think the colors are really going to make some of them come to life,” Hugh Fairfield-Smith said. “They are going to use hot-rod colors — hot rod pink, hot-rod lime green — really crazy colors.”
Fairfield-Smith said he envisions the finished pieces displayed on tables adorning entryways and the larger, more open designs used as planters for flowers and other garden fare.
“One lady I gave one of the horseshoe balls to she said she was going to hang it from the ceiling of her barn with a light in it like a chandelier,” he said. “The horseshoe balls, the ones that are wide open, would be better for growing flowers. … I’ve got one in my yard buried completely in snow right now. I actually have a little aspen sucker growing up inside it; I’ll see what happens with that.”
Though he has looked into buying and using new materials to create the spheres, Fairfield-Smith said it’s more practical to continue using scrap, either from his own yard or from steel yards, where he can pick it up for about 40 cents a pound.
“A lot of stuff came from our yard,” he said. “In the end of the day, it’s scrap metal.”
Hugh Fairfield-Smith said it’s rewarding to have a creative outlet, building something new and different every day instead of the same old day in and day out, and because of the nature of the materials used, each one of the spheres is unique.
“Every single one is different; there’s not two that are ever going to be the same,” he said, adding that the large, lit sculptures made with various shapes and sizes of steel tubing are his favorite. “It’s pretty cool. It’s an optical illusion of the eye. It plays with your mind.”
Having a shop full of metalworking tools and a team with downtime in the offseason makes Strategic a perfect spot to create welded artwork, Hugh Fairfield-Smith said.
“It’s fun being creative,” Fez Fairfield-Smith said. “When you come up with a new one — when we came up with the pipe thing with them all splayed out like that — that’s cool. It’s one thing to see it in your mind and it’s another to actually have it. Every one of them I’ve come up and said, that’s really cool in the end. My brother’s probably sick of me sending text photographs — ‘look at this, best one yet!’”