Welding with the new Multimatic® 220 AC/DC
Even though she had no welding or art experience, Barbie Parsons knew she was meant to be a welder and metal sculptor after seeing a short movie scene featuring a woman welding. To pursue that dream, Parsons scraped together enough money for a welding class and persevered even when family and friends doubted her.
“I knew it was my mission in life, like it was what I was put on Earth to do,” Parsons says. “The whole idea of being a metal sculptor wrapped around my soul.”
In less than a decade, Parsons went from hauling scrap metal and living in government subsidized housing to a career as a welder with a thriving business creating sculptures from repurposed metals. She spent five years as a welder in a fabrication shop before leaving that job to focus full time on metal art in 2014.
She shares her passion for welding and the lessons she learned about never giving up on your dreams with thousands of followers on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, where she’s known as BarbieTheWelder.
“I’m so happy, and I'm living a very surreal life right now,” Parsons says.
She’ll also appear in the Miller booth during SEMA 2018, where she will weld an aluminum sculpture and showcase the all-in-one multiprocess capabilities of the new Multimatic 220 AC/DC welder, which is capable of AC and DC TIG, MIG, flux-cored and stick welding.
A future in welding
Parsons always enjoyed hands-on work. Growing up, she helped her dad with projects around the house — from drywall and plumbing to electrical work. After high school she spent seven years as an auto mechanic before going to work for herself, scrapping metal and selling car parts online. But she found it tough to support a family of five on $10,000 a year.
When Parsons saw that fateful movie scene, she knew welding and art were her future. It took her nine months to save $1,200 for the six-month welding course at the local Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) program in Elmira, New York.
After completing the course, Parsons got a job at Cameron Manufacturing and Design, a custom fabrication shop in Horseheads, New York.
“I was in love with anything fabrication,” Parsons says. “They saw my passion and my willingness to learn. My first year I spent a lot of time grinding out my welds because they had very, very high standards. It was very humbling because I thought I knew what I was doing.”
Parsons honed her MIG and TIG welding skills and learned to run the mini-mill, earning her journeyman certification while at Cameron. But the call of metal sculpture remained in her mind.
The pull of metal art
Parsons saved up to buy several welders for her home garage and then spent hours outside of work moonlighting on her sculptures. In September 2014, she quit her fabrication job to pursue metal art full time. She cashed in her 401k and sold many of her possessions to fund her dream.
“That was my whole goal to begin with,” she says.
She realized that while metal art and welding were her passions, she needed to become a businesswoman to market herself and sell her work. Parsons watched many YouTube videos to glean advice from other entrepreneurs and artists, and she continues to frequently assess her business and where she can improve.
While there were struggles along the way, Parsons is grateful for every moment and lesson because they led her to a life she loves.
“I am where I am today because of so many people in the welding industry who shared their knowledge and their skills,” Parsons says.
One recent piece, “Death’s Widow,” took her about 100 hours to complete. She also traveled to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota this year to complete a steel sculpture for the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) — a piece that took her 50 hours to complete on-site.
“When I got done, the sculpture was everything I knew it would be,” she says. “My sculptures are not done until I’m in love. I cried like a little girl to give it up because it was such a major win for me personally, and it was such a personal challenge.”
Miller partnership at SEMA
Parsons’s next live build will be at SEMA 2018 in the Miller booth, where she plans to create a “gnarly” tree sculpture using aluminum. She’ll weld it using the new Multimatic 220 AC/DC welder.
Parsons relies on Miller machines in her shop, including the Millermatic® 211 MIG welder, Syncrowave® 210 TIG welder and Spectrum® 375 X-TREME™ plasma cutter.
“Miller is reliable and dependable,” she says. “I used my Syncrowave for my steel sculpture at Sturgis. I ran it off a 50-foot extension cord using 110 power. It never overheated. I never ran into the duty cycle. I never lost power. I was very impressed with that.”
The SEMA project will be her first aluminum sculpture, and she’ll be completing it from start to finish in the Miller booth, with the finished sculpture to be given away. Visitors to the Miller booth can have their badges scanned, with two lucky winners drawn after the show.
One will take home the sculpture, and the other gets a new Multimatic 220 AC/DC welder, which delivers multiprocess capabilities for AC and DC TIG, MIG, flux-cored and stick welding. Designed for light fabrication, maintenance and repair, auto body, and farm and home applications, it’s one machine that allows welders to tackle more projects and materials — from 24-gauge up to 1/4-inch-thick aluminum thanks to the machine’s AC TIG capabilities.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity and privilege to work with Miller,” Parsons says. “The welding industry doesn’t always think about art. There’s a lot of stuff about pipeline and metal fabrication, so to be able to share what these machines are capable of from an art perspective is going to be a lot of fun.”
And Parsons loves any opportunity to meet her followers and encourage other welders on their journey.
“I’m a single mom from Erin, New York, working out of a one-car garage. I want to show people that regardless of where you come from, you can change your life,” Parsons says. “I feel like the more I give, the more I get back. I can’t give enough back to the welding community and the people who have supported me.”