Sculptor Bill Morrow has a philosophy about life. “I have a tendency to say, ‘Yes.’ ‘No’ closes doors.”
Before being known as a sculptor, Morrow was successful at winning bids and landing welding jobs in support of the oil and gas industry on the Western Slope of Colorado.
He had been welding since 1973 and had his own shop. Then in 1984, Exxon left the area and with the oil giant’s exit so went all the welding jobs. Morrow kept placing bids, but companies ceased awarding them.
While others were telling Morrow, “No,” he discovered he had a talent to create sculpture using the tools of his welding trade. He had set up a MIG (Metallic Inner Gas) welder on a jib crane in his shop. A MIG welder uses a gas shield and a wire to create a nice clean weld. One day a friend asked him what he was going to build with his MIG welder since there wasn’t any work. Morrow replied, “I think I’ll build a lizard.”
At 45, Morrow had created a new career for himself even though initially he wasn’t really serious about being an artist. While figuring out how to sculpt a lizard, he realized, “It took on a life of its own. I was just a slave to another master.” He worked non-stop to complete it. The year was 1985.
Later, Morrow was one of nine artists who established “Art on the Corner” in downtown Grand Junction. The idea was to have 30 pieces of sculpture on Main Street. The project was the brain child of David Davis who later was the director of the Western Colorado Center for the Arts. The entire installation took place on a single Sunday. Of the artists who contributed their talent and creativity to “Art on the Corner” some, like Morrow, are still doing art. Some have passed on, and some gave up on sculpting altogether.
Morrow is originally from Rifle, which is where he moved back to in 1993 hoping to buy his old family home. That didn’t work out when his wife Cindy fell ill in 1995. Without health insurance he couldn’t afford to buy the house.
Even so he came up with a plan to save the five acres and home and turn it into an art and culture center. The local arts council thought he was crazy to want to buy a quarter million dollar property.
Nevertheless, he took his plan to some of his wealthy clients in Aspen. Two donors contributed $237,500. A friend involved in the arts raised another $10,000. He had the money to close the deal. His parents agreed to carry the mortgage.
The arts council purchased the property in February 2002. It was a bittersweet fulfillment of his dream because his father had died just two days earlier.
Morrow was kept on as the resident caretaker. He arranged musical events, art fairs and classes.
When his wife Cindy died in 2005, Morrow no longer wanted to stay on the property. He had worked in Rifle and Carbondale for a long time, and had a number of good friends in the North Fork Valley. One friend, John Hutchinson, said he could live out at his ranch. Morrow started paying rent in September 2006. “I moved and moved and moved some more,” he said. “It just fell into place for me to be here.”
The move begun in 2006 resulted in Morrow coming to Bone Mesa outside of Paonia. A friend also gave him some shop space on Rogers Mesa so he could work.
Morrow, who has some pieces on display at the Terra Firma Gallery in Paonia, mainly works on commissioned projects. He just finished one for a new home in Aspen. The homeowners didn’t like the ventilation grating on the wall behind their bar. Morrow was commissioned to create an ornamental piece to mask the grating.
What he created was a seven-foot, four-inch long fish. The scales were designed so air from the ventilation system could pass on through. The fish had 1,080 diamond-shaped expanded metal pieces. While the weld was still hot he hammered the piece to the size of a nickel. Then, they were welded together until he had long strips of scales. The head, fins and tail were made out of 16 ounce copper. He worked on the fish for over five months, a total of 215 hours.
Morrow creates a lot of things on his own. Last summer he used bailing wire to build a seven-foot-tall Saguaro cactus. “It’s very iconic looking,” Morrow said. “It looks like one out of the Roadrunner cartoon.” It graces the front landscaping of a cabin just off Highway 133 about a mile below the Paonia Reservoir.
Morrow is currently working on a cemetery fence in Carbondale. Of course, it’s not a traditional wrought iron fence. He finds items which will become works of art at salvage yards. In one salvage adventure, he found over 700 coils. He has made rings from the coils, which he will use in building the fence.
“I love salvage yards and dumps.” He laments that most won’t let anyone salvage these days, but he believes the Aspen salvage yard still permits it.
For the future he is thinking of traveling in his 1970 Chevy work truck. He’ll have his welder and tools and anything else he needs with him. He wants to hit the road and meet other artists. Where will he go? “Here and there. Wherever I get a notion.” There’s nothing here to tie him down.
“I’ve been welding since ‘73, and I’ve picked up a lot of tricks along the way, and I love to teach.”
He will meet with art councils and show others how to do what he does. Morrow says it’s “like magic” how he will suddenly know how to build something. Others had shown him how to make pine cones, but he came up with his own unique method with horseshoe nails. It’s labor intensive, but it’s the best pine cone one could ever find.
Morrow feels he is just a vehicle in the art he does. It’s as though he is in touch with a creative energy source. “I’m getting more in touch with that energy field.”
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