Welding Art to Life
During her sophomore year in college, then eighteen-year-old Rebecca Nase Chomyn showed up to her first welding class in a skirt and flip flops. That was the day they were doing a demo of plasma cutting.
“Basically you’re shooting fire toward the ground as you cut metal,” said Chomyn, who graduated from Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, NY, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in sculpture. “And I had flip flops on! I never did that again.”
Although her wardrobe choices weren’t great, her metal work was awesome.
“Working with metal . . . it’s like you can take one thing and pull it over there and zap it together,” Chomyn explained in a recent interview. “I like to work in 1/4- or 1/8-inch pieces of rod. I bend them and weld them together and make some crazy looking thing . . . I like to make swirly kinds of things and trees.”
But Chomyn didn’t start art school with metal in mind. In fact, she didn’t even want to go to art school.
It was her mom, Lesley Nase, who suggested Pratt Institute.
“I’ve always been decent at drawing and painting but I never wanted to do it, because my brother and father did,” the Goshen native explained. Comparing herself to her older brother Joshua, and father Bud was never something Chomyn was interested in.
So, when she got to college and found metal art, it was an instant match. She found herself some appropriate footwear for welding, started sporting some mad-scientist-esque circular goggles, and played with metal until she graduated in 2003.
“My grandmother always asked me what I wanted to do,” Chomyn said. “My plan was to be a massage therapist and make some metal stuff on the side, but I just never did the massage part. Instead, I decided I’d try to figure out how to make money with my art.”
The summer Chomyn returned home from college she made a whole bunch of little things like candle holders and plant stands. She packed them on a trailer she made with her dad and drove across country with a friend.
“I went to craft fairs in Arizona and California and sold most of my stuff,” Chomyn said. “And ended up staying in Sonoma County, California, for nine years.”
Chomyn worked in restaurants as a server and bartender, and worked in an industrial design metal shop as a fabricator.
“Through a restaurant connection, I got a job as a personal welder for the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation. I was kind of an all around ranch hand (they didn’t actually have any cattle) for a while. Then I was the welder and a sculpture installer for the foundation.”
She met her husband Ben Chomyn and together they lived on the foundation’s property.
“We were always on call,” she said. “It was a lot. I felt like I was part of the family but not really; kind of an artist but only when they wanted me to be . . . I wanted to be home, near family.”
So she and her husband, and their two girls, came back to Vermont and settled in Fairfield in 2013.
She still works in the restaurant business, while incorporating her metal and other artwork on the side. “I started work at the Essex Resort and Spa when we first moved here,” Chomyn said. “Doing art for your work is very lonely. I needed to know some other adults. I enjoy the restaurant business. I find it helpful too, because you meet people and make connections.”
Chomyn has made the metal candleholders that go on the tables at Junction (one of the restaurants at the resort) and does the wall chalk-drawings four times a year. She also illustrated a children’s book that her mother wrote, Who Paints the World? (available at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury) and displays her metal work at Artist in Residence Gallery in St. Albans.
“You have to be creative with how you make art and how you get it to people,” said Chomyn, who was a recipient of a Frog Hollow grant that allowed her to buy her very own plasma cutter.
Now comfortable with her welding gear and garb, Chomyn bends and welds metal into whimsical, twirly pieces of enchanted art at her home up north.
“I’m built to be a welder,” she said with a chuckle. “I have really big shoulders and arms—I’m not little. My hands don’t fit through most bracelets, they’re wide and work well.
—Article by Elsie Lynn Parini reprinted here with permission from the Addison County Independent.