Where the Metals Meet—A Conversation with Metalworker and Creatrix Tanya Marsh

Many good things came out of the pandemic. Life is like that—always somehow balancing its own generative and destructive scales. Throughout the shutdown, during the year-and-change we’ve spent locked down in our own homes, metalworker Tanya Marsh set a long-time dream in motion, establishing her own metalworking studio, where she crafts custom pieces of welded steelwork while planning to partner with a nonprofit to offer youth internships. 

Fascinated by metal since childhood, Marsh trained and was certified as a welder at Cal-Trade Welding School in Sacramento in 1997. Throughout her life, through circumstance and shift, she worked with metal in various different capacities—welding components as varied as cement-mixing trailers and 1-inch steel plates for breast cancer–radiation machines. This is the first time she’s been able to pursue her artistic vision full time, and this Monday I spent some time discussing the milestone with her.

Jane Vick — So, first of all, congratulations, Tanya. This is a wonderful achievement. How did you come to find metal as your medium?

Tanya Marsh — Well, it was my father, really, and my grandfather. They were incredible creatives; they could fix anything. So, having that in my realm, and being able to go hang out in the garage with them and see them rebuild something from what was a pile of rust into something workable again really sparked the fascination for me. And then, in college, I got my own hands on metal, and was invited to use my imagination, and it really took off from there. But the idea of being able to make a living doing art was put off at that time—I thought of it more as fun. And I dabbled in it again in my 30s when I got my own studio, but then I got pregnant and had to take time off again.

[Tanya is here referring to a college assignment in which she was asked to weld something she’d want to live in, and she welded a ¼-inch oyster shell out of a metal bar. Also, when she refers to having finally gotten her own studio, it is because, while she was working on metal plates for breast cancer–treatment machines, a car going the wrong way down a one-way street hit her head on. The settlement left her able to invest in her own metalworking studio—another example of the balance found between generation and destruction.]

J.V. — So why metal, over any other medium? What does it feel like for you when you work with it?

T.M. — Well, you know, I build a lot of things with wood also, and I love wood, it’s gorgeous. I love the outcome, I love the finished product, but it is hard to work with, and metal is surprisingly easier. And its measurements are accurate; a 2×4 is actually a 2×4. And maybe it’s because I’m a water sign—it’s something that really grounds me—and that it’s something solid that can be formed into anything, with endless possibility, that’s what is so magical about it for me.

J.V. — And the name, Where The Metals Meet, where did that come from?

T.M. — My husband took me on a trip years ago to a place called Watersmeet, in the Sylvania Wilderness. The area is so beautiful, and it’s the heart of where we live on Turtle Island, and it really resonated with me. And when I’m welding, it’s where those metals are coming together, that spark, that moment of union that resonates with me. And it just made so much sense, when I was trying to sort out what the best direction was to take this in, because that’s what it’s all about and that’s what it is for me—that point where the metals are meeting, and the spark that creates the magic there.

J.V. — That’s a beautiful naming story. I’m glad I asked. And you’re hoping to partner with a nonprofit to fund internships, is that right?

T.M. — That is my goal, yes. To share knowledge in a space that I cannot provide, but where it’s already available and the connections are there in the community. I’m hoping to find the right partnership and space to hopefully go in and design workshops, empowering youth with the skills to move into the metal world. There weren’t any female welders while I was learning, and I want to empower not only youth, but women, and LGBTQ youth and teens looking to learn metalwork in a safe and inclusive space.

J.V. — So, you would teach them welding, not necessarily as an art form, but as a professional skill?

T.M. — Exactly. I wouldn’t necessarily provide them with a certification, but [with] the understanding of basic shop skills and hand tools, and a sense of whether or not this is a field they want to work in. And if so, they can go to a future employer with the skills they need already well developed. Or maybe they do move into art—and you can totally make a living doing art, which is something we need to advocate more for.

J.V. — And is there anything in particular that you feel, or seek to convey, in this next iteration of your work with metal?

T.M. — Yes, I do want to share that the pieces that I create are meant to connect us, and to help us see or feel something a little bit differently. That invitation is built into my pieces.

Tanya’s connection to the spark that welds two pieces of metal together—creating from two individual pieces a cohesive manifestation of an idea—possesses an alchemical quality. She intends for her work to reignite that magic within her community. Despite health challenges—including her car accident, and struggles with celiac  and microscopic colitis—she always finds her way back to metal. She is now able to both bring her long-percolating concepts to fruition and to share her craft with the next generation of metalworkers—keeping, despite the stacked odds of this increasingly technological world, the art of handcraft alive. Find her work and connect with her at wherethemetalsmeet.com

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