Sheet Metal Soars to New Heights

This life-size green heron, about 20 inches long, sits on a lily pad.

Lafayette artist Brian Weaver melds his love of nature and creativity together in his art, hammering sheets of steel into avian life, and finely carving silver into bird pendants.

After training as a jeweler in the 1980s, Brian now finds fulfillment in making the unexpected moments in nature come alive through his artistic works.

For his sculptures, Brian starts by drawing an image and transferring it onto a layer of sheet steel before cutting out the image with a plasma cutter, or hand-held torch, which heats the metal in a narrow stream, blowing away molten metal. He prefers this handheld way of creating because of the imperfections it allows.

“The torch is freer, it leaves the edges raw, and I don’t sand everything out – I make sure it’s kind of loose,” says Brian, adding that the technique allows for movement and interpretation.

He looks to replicate in his art specific moments in nature – the moments that the human eye occasionally glimpses. For example, if you walk near a stream and startle a great blue heron, its eyes lock with yours just before it flies away.

“What I’m trying to convey is that split second where it’s not just a statue. There’s a personality there, a look in the eye, the way the head is carried – things like that are what I always strive for,” Brian says.

He also uses the handled technique in his jewelry, by means of a jeweler saw to carve designs into silver, copper, bronze and nickel silver. A Dremel tool assists him in creating intricate details.

Brian says his work is constantly evolving, and he is always coming closer to replicating the moments he seeks. For example, one sculpture of a flying barn owl began as a 4- by 8-foot sheet of metal. It soon became a lifelike owl in mid-flight, with a white face and feather patterns extending down the wings, each part of which is welded together.

To create the feathering, Brian heated the metal with a torch, coloring it. The face was sanded out, and sealed with a wire brush. He applies different patterns of liquid patinas to achieve nuances in colors, sealing everything with a lacquer. When finished, the owl measures about 3 feet from the top of the body to the tip of the wing.

Brian creates his art in an array of sizes. He’s created both a red-tailed hawk with a 4-1/2-foot wingspan, as well as a little green heron – who’s perched on a lily pad – that stands 20 inches in length, requiring more precision and fine detail.

For the tail of the hawk, Brian relied on the natural rusting ability of steel to achieve the desired effect. He wrapped the steel in a soaked cloth and salted it, leaving it to rust for three days.

Brian Weaver’s work can be found displayed in nature centers, gift shops and museums and can be seen at

by Catherine Wilde

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