This piece is built around my first welding helmet. I retired the helmet long ago, but never got rid of it. It hung on one wall or another for twenty years or more, silently watching as I went about my life.
Then one day, surfacing from deep and distant thoughts, I found myself staring at it, and this is what I found looking looking back at me.
I didn’t recognize him immediately, but once the mask was complete, I realized I’d captured the image of the Divine Welder.
In African traditional religions, there are a half a dozen names for the powerful deity that gives the living blacksmith his ability to create the tools, weapons and tokens essential to his community. This gift touches the spiritual, with the smith harnessing the elements to do his work and protect and empower those around him.
Other cultures have their own names for this god. The most familiar to us is probably Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, but the Norse and the Egyptians had their proprietary deities as well. Over the decades that I’ve worked and played as a welder, I’ve been drawn to the stories of these traditions. I would think most welders feel some similar affinity.
Despite the decidedly African aspect of this mask visually, I’ve come to think of it as Hephaestus, the god of fire, metalworking, and sculpture in Greek mythology, patron of all smiths and craftsmen. I think I see Hepaehstus in this piece at least in part because he is consistently depicted as lame of foot, a characteristic that I have shared since a motorcycle injury in my teens. For me, the resonance is irresistible, and I humbly submit that it’s my call to make.
If you look closely, there is welding spatter still visible on the lens, and you’ll recognize the bandsaw blade teeth.