Scrap metal to sculpture in metal arts competition

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Sometimes it took two people to get the sculpture just right in the annual metal arts contest at Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center.

MOSES LAKE — The pile of scrap metal did not look promising. Corroded car exhaust pipes, metal grates, bent hubcaps, and rusty corroded items of indeterminate origin. By the end of the day it was going to be transformed into — well, Chad Utter, dean of students at Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center, laid out the rules.

It was the annual metal arts contest, where students from 11 different schools were going to take those pieces of discarded scrap metal and turn them into sculpture. The theme is announced ahead of time, and for 2019 it was “superheroes.” But “there’s always a twist — you’re going to love this, I’m sure — your twist is that it has to be original, and you’re going to have to tell its story,” Utter said. (That meant a writing assignment, which prompted a little groaning.)

Teams from the skills center, Moses Lake High School, Kamiakin High School, Kennewick, Lind-Ritzville, Othello, Ephrata, Connell, Wahluke, and Wilson Creek examined the pile of scrap metal, picked out bits and pieces of rusty greasy metal, and went to work.

The Lind-Ritzville and Wilson Creek teams opted for farming superheroes. Actually Wilson Creek opted for a farming machinery superhero. “A combine superhero. He can plow a field really fast and he helps farmers out,” said Landon Ribail.

The Othello team had the story part down. Othello’s superhero Metallica was born in 1959, said Osvaldo Gallardo, and he has super strength and super speed. “He fights evil.”

The team opted not to show Metallica himself. “That is supposed to be a Captain America-type shield,” Osvaldo said. Metallica’s original shield was built by dwarves, at least according to the team’s story.

One of the skills center teams had a use for that metal bowl. “What we’re kind of going towards is a military man,” said Ashton Jenkins. The metal bowl was repurposed as a helmet, their superhero had body armor in the form of a breast plate, and the team was considering the idea of an exoskeleton.

“It’s an idea that came to mind,” Ashton said.

A second team from the skills center was kind of at a loss, not really able to come to a consensus. But working out the plan is part of the challenge, said instructor Dave Oliver. “That’s like life.”

Eventually the team was inspired by a lamp base to build, not the superhero, but another staple character of comic books, the sidekick. In their case the lamp base gave them the idea of a girl sidekick.

The challenge of going from a pile of discarded metal to a finished object within five or six hours provides lessons that will come in handy later, said Joe Silva, ag instructor at Othello High School. “Kind of prepares for industry and careers. Prepares them to think on their own.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at

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