From scrap to sculpture |

From scrap to sculpture

SUMMIT COUNTY – Todd Buckendahl can make metal come alive.

“I make things grow,” said Buckendahl, a local welder-sculptor.

The 39-year-old first tried his hand at welding in his eighth-grade metal shop class in Boulder. Though he’s lived many places between then and now, his love of welding has followed him.

By the time he graduated high school in California, Buckendahl knew he wanted to be a welder. But his girlfriend at the time convinced him to go on to college.

“She said, “As long as you’re going to be a welder, be a damn good welder,'” he said.

After two years in college, Buckendahl decided he wanted to become an artist. By the time he graduated six years later – having attended five different schools -he had completed a technical welding program and earned a bachelor’s degree in art. Upon graduating, however, Buckendahl didn’t pursue either love seriously. He held a number of odd jobs in San Diego until he moved back to Boulder. By then, Buckendahl worked primarily in construction.

In 1996, Buckendahl moved to

Summit County.

“I just didn’t enjoy Boulder anymore,” he said. “It was a little too crowded for me. I had been up here a few times and loved it.”

Buckendahl continued to work construction but began gathering tools for a metal sculpting studio. His construction work paid off when those work connections led him to his first few commissions. And those commissions eventually led to a full-time welding business – Bent Metal.

Most of Buckendahl’s commissioned work is what he calls functional art. He makes metal railings, pot hangers, gates and other functional pieces for the home. What makes much of Buckendahl’s work stand apart from the rest, however, is his organic touch. For example, he sculpts some of his stairway railings to look like aspen trees – complete with eyes, old carvings and elk rubbings – and he made a pot hanger decorated with copper aspen leaves.

“It’s just not a natural collaboration,” Buckendahl said of metal and natural elements. “Most people look at my stuff and think it’s wood. They’ll come up and find out it’s metal and be quite surprised.”

Buckendahl’s art sculptures also contain an element of the unexpected.

“What I really enjoy, metal-wise, is kind of messing it up and using it different ways that it wasn’t intended,” he said.

Almost all of the material Buckendahl uses for his sculptures is

recycled. He takes other people’s junk – scrap metal, old transmissions and more – and brings it back to life through his art.

He doesn’t necessarily know how he’ll use a piece when he collects it, but eventually an idea will come to him.

“If you look at the back of my house in the summer, it’s a real puzzle,” Buckendahl said, adding that several of his neighbors call him “Sanford and Son.” “I’ll find a piece and then it will hit me that it’s a great body for a dragonfly or a lizard.”

Buckendahl is currently working on a piece – a Komodo dragon – for his “Metal Endangered” series which is scheduled to be part of a display near the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge this summer. Though the dragon still is missing a head, Buckendahl created its body, tail and legs from a four-speed transmission, used garage door springs, bike sprockets and old bicycle chains.

These days, Buckendahl doesn’t do much more than work.

If he’s not working, he’s looking for work, he said.

But Buckendahl loves to play when he has time. He snowboards, mountain bikes and dirt bikes. His favorite pastimes, however, involve the ocean – sailing, scuba diving and surfing.

“If Summit County had a beach, I’d never leave,” Buckendahl said.

Even without the ocean, though, it’s unlikely he’ll move from Summit County.

“I don’t know if I could leave if I wanted to – I kind of have it made,” Buckendahl said.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or

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