Barbie The Welder is a custom metal sculpture business owned by Barbie Parsons, artist and sculptor. My business is sharing knowledge and strength and hope for other artists and entrepreneurs. The address is 27 Shamrock Dr., Erin, NY 14838. Barbie may be reached at (607) 331-1528 and by email at BarbieTheWelder@yahoo.com. There is a strong presence on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook under Barbie The Welder.
“This is one of a kind sculpture you can’t find anywhere else”.
I am living inside the dream that I had for myself 10 years ago. My life has changed so drastically and any way I can give back so that others can change their lives, I am happy to do that. I have been so blessed.
How long have you been in business?
I have been a full-time artist for 3 ½ years. 9 months before that I worked full time at Cameron Manufacturing and Design while I was working part-time at my studio. I was building up some sort of inventory of art to sell once I quit my job at Cameron.
What has been the evolution of you as a business owner?
Originally, I was working in Auto Mechanics and became disenchanted with the way women were being treated. I started working for myself. I was pulling parts off cars at Pick A Part and selling them on Ebay. I was also scrapping metal. I was doing anything I could do to pay the bills for a family of 4.
I saw a movie with Tom Hanks called Castaway in 2007. In the beginning of that movie there was a woman welding wings on an angel sculpture and I was inspired. I wanted to do THAT! It took me 9 months to save up the money to go to welding school at BOCES. It was a 6 month course (104 hours total). I learned how to weld.
I don’t know what I was thinking because I had no garage. I had no welders of my own. I had no way to weld afterward. My teacher, Jim Ostrum, was the perfect match for me. He saw my passion and poured his time in to me. He encouraged me. At the end of the program, I didn’t want to work for anyone else because of my experiences in the automotive industry. He forced me to talk to Ken Woods at Cameron Manufacturing and Design. We did a class tour and I fell in love with the shop. It was all the fabrication tools I was seeing on television shows.
Cameron Manufacturing took a risk with me. I was really inexperienced. I worked there for 5 years and earned my Journeyman in ironplate and sheet metal. (I worked for 9 months and got layed off for 10 months, then I was called back). The whole time I worked there it was to learn the skills and the fabrication and the welding so that I could do this art. I gave them my one month notice and never looked back. This has been my end game ever since I watched that movie.
The day before I quit my job, I went to my local bank to take out a personal loan. I cashed in my 401K. I thought that would be enough to get me through a whole year of creating art if I didn’t sell anything. 9 months later I had not sold one piece and had a total of $35 in the bank.
I did not know anything about marketing or sales. I knew I wanted to create art, but I knew nothing about this other stuff. I sat at my bench and cried. I knew Cameron would have welcomed me back with open arms, but I could not physically bring myself to go back.
What did you do?
I have never dug so deep in my life. I ended up doing a show I never wanted to do. That internal voice said “suck it up and GO” so I did. While I was there I met chainsaw sculptors. They are creating their art and people are surrounding them watching. It never dawned on me that this is what I needed to do.
I connected with the carvers and they took me under their wing. They entertain so they get paid for the shows (instead of paying the show to be there as a vendor). They get fed and given places to stay. They took me with them. I created a community again. After leaving Cameron, I spent 9 months in isolation creating my art. I lost the community of support that I had there. Now I had it back.
I also went to Coney Island for the July 4th weekend and made enough money to get me started. That was my turning point. I was convinced that I could really do this. People liked what I was doing and bought a lot of my pieces. I was almost out of inventory from those 9 months in the studio. I began doing lots of shows and working in the studio in between.
When did the custom business start?
Before I quit my job, Scott’s Guns in Horseheads asked me if I could make a secure gun cabinet. It was 8 feet long with a sloped face on it. Then they wanted window bars. The custom Art Pieces started about early 2016. My first one was a 5’ tall angel at Sullivan’s Funeral Home. That is a very special piece to me. I visit her often. If he had not put money down to buy her, I would have kept her. (My goal is to be able to afford my own art). It is art that makes you feel.
I have ZERO training in art. I didn’t know I was an artist for 6 months. I just knew I wanted to make that angel.
You are tapping in to something.
It is mysterious. It is mystical. It is ethereal. The difficult thing for me is that I cannot draw. My clients have to take me at my word. They show me a picture. I know I can make this. I have been blessed that people have been willing to hand me money and take my word that I can do what they want, even when I don’t have anything close that I can show them.
Are there any misconceptions about you or your business?
Not in my experience. I am very blessed with the supporters I have in social media. Never in a million years would I have thought I would have such a huge group like this. They tell me they are inspired by me. I am just me in this garage in Erin, NY living my dream. They tell me that because I am doing this, they are living their dreams too.
I am blessed. All this has blessed my sons and my mom and dad. Before, my mom questioned my sanity in the choices I was making. Now she is my greatest advocate.
What have been your greatest achievements?
First of all, my greatest creation is being a mom.
My greatest achievement as a welder is creating my book and teaching other people to create sculpture.
Your book is: Barbie the Welder: Horseshoe Crafts. More than 30 easy projects to weld at home. Racehorse Publishing. Did you self-publish?
I did not. Skyhorse Publishers (a parent company to Racehorse Publishing) contacted me. I created a Horseshoe Wine Rack. I posted a picture to Pinterest that a photographer friend of mine had done. Through the miracle of social media and the internet, it went viral (12,000 LIKES).
From that I received an email that I originally thought was a joke. They asked, “Could you write a book”? I said “Absolutely, I could write a book”. They asked if I could do 20 projects and I said “No problem”. Then they asked if I could do 30 projects. I said, “No problem”. They said they would send a contract and I thought this was all a joke. The book came out in August of 2017.
How long did it take you to do this?
It took me 2 weeks to write the book. Included in that was creating 35 welding projects, writing the descriptions and instructions, and doing the photography myself. I spent one day creating the 35 projects and photographing them. The rest of the time I spent writing the book. 126 pages and 175 pictures.
What if someone wants to do these projects but does not have any welding equipment? What do you do?
You can rent equipment from the local welding supply store. You need a garage and the equipment I used runs on a 110 circuit with a 20 amp breaker. That is what you use at your home. You can borrow a welder or ask someone you know who welds to show you. These projects do not take a lot of experience. My youngest student was a 12 year old girl who designed and welded a flower for her mother.
Any other great achievements you can think of?
I have been sponsored by Miller Welders. I have been sponsored by a small worldwide company, Weiler Abrasives, cut-off wheels and sanding discs, from Cresco, PA. They provide me with products and I promote them through my social media. They found me through social media.
Also, I went to Phoenix, AZ for a month last year. I participated in welding on a 1957 Chevy pickup truck. I had never welded a vehicle. This was an all-women, frame up restoration. Only women were involved in this project (90). It was unveiled last year at SEMA, the world’s largest automobile show. This was me going back in to the automotive industry that I left on a very sour note. It was cathartic. It was an amazingly healing experience.
I want to teach and learn. I want to bring more women in to the welding industry. I want to represent hope and possibility to people. If I can do it, they can do it too. That is my goal.
Have you had any stumbling blocks?
There is no one out there that has done what I envision. There are no mentors that I can look to as a benchmark with a blueprint I can follow.
I have had to teach myself Sales and Marketing. I have learned through Youtube. I spend about 4 hours/day educating myself on the business aspect. My focus now is legal and financial anticipation. When I needed to get my name out, I focused on learning that. Instagram looked visual so I learned how to use that as a tool to gain followers organically.
I am not a salesman. I didn’t have a comfort with that so I learned how to ask Key Questions for information about a potential customer. I watched my son! He was 10 and I have no idea where it came from, but I learned from watching him.
If you could have a Do-Over in anything, what would that be (if anything)?
I have never been happier in my life. I would not change a thing. I needed every pitfall and struggle to get to where I am. I love who I am and where I am. I love giving back.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Doing the same ‘dang’ thing in a much bigger shop with a lot more toys. I am living inside my dream today. For now I can keep this small. It’s not really about the size of the shop, it’s what you do with it – setting it up right, organizing it, etc..
I took my mom to Rochester on an overnight. She was bragging to the woman at the hotel lobby counter about me. She told us her brother works at ARC & FLAME and that we HAVE to go!
Rochester ARC and Flame is a game changer for me. It is a Hot Arts Center that does blade smithing, black smithing, welding and glassblowing/creations. I now have a space where the dragon is going that sits in my front yard because it is too big to bring in here. I can leave it there and work on it until it is done.
I have been guided all my life and blessed with synchronistic happenings like this. We are creating a Barbie-The-Welder Scholarship as another way for me to give back. Low Income/High Passion. The owner of the welding supply business next to the ARC & FLAME Center tells me whatever you donate, I will match. We will talk to the American Welding Society people and see if they can double it. I cried in front of him.
AND bring yourself and your dragon. You can work on that here. AND would you like to teach classes? I had just cancelled my classes her in this very small shop for fear something would happen to jeopardize their safety and everything I had built. Now I have this offer to teach classes in Rochester if I want to – as often as I want for as little or as much as I want.
I am blessed.