You may not know Barbie Parsons but you should know her work. As an all-star advocate for welding and working with your hands, Barbie is a shining example of what happens when you learn a craft and curate it to your needs. Like most metalworkers, she honed her skills in a custom fabshop before breaking out on her own.
Since then, she's built a brand from being @Barbiethewelder and a business that allows her to flex her metalworking muscles through creative sculpture (like this these). Wondering about welding tips, SNIPS caught up Barbie to talk alternative careers in the trades and why welding changed her life.
What inspired you to start welding?
Even though I had no welding or art experience, I knew I was meant to be a metal sculptor after seeing a short movie scene featuring a woman welding. To pursue that dream, I saved up for 9 months to put myself through a 6 month course in welding at the local BOCES in Elmira, NY.
Do you work as a full-time welder now? Where did you hone your skills?
In less than a decade, I went from hauling scrap metal and living in government subsidized housing to a career as a welder with a thriving business creating sculptures from repurposed metals. I spent five years as a welder/fabricator in a fabrication shop learning the skills I needed to create sculpture before leaving that job to focus full time on metal art in 2014.
What made you finally take the plunge and start your own business?
I knew I would quit my job to pursue my passion for creating metal sculptures before I was ever hired.
Did you always like working with your hands?
I grew up working side-by-side with my dad who is a jack-of-all-trades. If he was wiring a room, I was learning with him. If he was installing drywall, I was there: roofing, plumbing, painting, all learned by working with my dad. He never treated me differently because I was a girl.
What is your most popular selling welding work at the moment?
My most popular selling pieces are my one of a kind darkly whimsical solid steel sculptures.
Name a few companies you've done some welding work for.
I have created sculptures for major corporations like Harley Davidson, Weiler Abrasives, Miller Welders, and Carolina Shoe Company, and many other small businesses. To date, I have created sculptures for clients in 14 different countries. I have welded sculptures live in 10 different states at events like Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Harley Davidsons 115th anniversary, SEMA, and Americade.
Welding is considered a majorly male dominated trade, but your work serves to change that narrative. What has been your experience interacting with others in the welding community?
I have been treated with respect during school, while working at the local custom fabrication shop, and online. The guys at the fab shop are still like brothers to me! I hated quitting because of missing them but needed to pursue my dream.
Overall, what advice would you give another woman who is thinking about getting into welding?
It’s a tough job but extremely rewarding! It takes hundreds of hours of practice to gain the skills necessary. But once you begin to really master it, it will change you forever. It’s really quite a powerful feeling to be able to bend and form metal to your will. Welding gave me self-esteem and self-worth that I didn’t have when I started.