Danny Perkins and the art of steel

Sherbrooke Record - - LOCAL NEWS - By Nick Fonda

The new gates at the Rich­mond Fair Grounds were seen by ap­prox­i­mately 10 000 peo­ple this year. The es­ti­mate comes from Mau­reen Mur­phy, the Fair’s sec­re­tary-trea­surer. “Ev­ery­one had some­thing pos­i­tive to say about them,” Mau­reen states. “The three sets of gates that Danny made for us are a real em­bel­lish­ment. He’s a very artis­tic young man.”

Danny Perkins, who con­structed the steel gates, ac­knowl­edges that his work has been well re­ceived. How­ever, he’s quick to state that, much as he might en­joy us­ing his draw­ing skills on 14guage sheet metal, his day job is firmly on his fam­ily’s farm in Kingsey Falls. (With his mother and fa­ther, he milks about 65 head of Jersey cows twice a day.)

“Art was my favourite sub­ject in school,” Danny Perkins says, adding that his mother and sis­ter are also quite artis­tic. “But what I stud­ied af­ter high school was brick­lay­ing. I wanted to have some sort of trade to fall back on.”

For a while, Danny worked in con­struc­tion, on dif­fer­ent sites around the Town­ships. The work was sea­sonal and this led Danny to learn weld­ing “One win­ter, when I was laid off, as part of my ben­e­fits, I was of­fered a 250-hour weld­ing course. It made sense to me to take it.”

Even though he was work­ing in con­struc­tion, Danny con­tin­ued to con­trib­ute to the fam­ily farm on week­ends and when he could. Af­ter a few years of brick­lay­ing, he opted to aban­don con­struc­tion work in favour of farm work.

It was seven or eight years ago that Danny’s artis­tic in­cli­na­tion and his mas­tery of weld­ing first came to­gether. “My first piece of metal art­work was a sign for the farm,” he ex­plains, “It shows a rooster stand­ing on the back of a cow with ‘Perkins Farm’ writ­ten un­der­neath.”

How­ever, it took sev­eral years, un­til 2016, for Danny to again start cre­at­ing in metal. This time, it was some­thing quite prac­ti­cal. “I made a hay cart,” he says. “It’s a small, hand-pushed cart that mea­sures roughly five feet by two feet by two feet. It’s used at fair time to bring hay to the cat­tle you’re show­ing. Most of­ten farm­ers use plas­tic carts of the same size.”

If Danny’s cart was sim­i­lar to the plas­tic ones, it nev­er­the­less had an artis­tic touch that made it unique. Af­ter con­struct­ing the cart, Danny took a few pho­tos of it and posted th­ese on Face­book. The re­sult was that al­most two dozen farm­ers, from near-by North Hat­ley to Texas and Ok­la­homa, have con­tacted him to com­mis­sion sim­i­lar per­son­al­ized hay carts.

That Danny should build gates for Rich­mond Fair is more than fit­ting. He can trace his fam­ily back to an early an­ces­tor who first started till­ing Town­ships’ soil more than 200 years ago. Danny is a sixth gen­er­a­tion farmer. The fam­ily’s con­nec­tion to Rich­mond Fair goes back more than 150 years. Cur­rently, Danny’s fa­ther, Avery Perkins, is one of the di­rec­tors of the Fair.

When Danny got the idea to of­fer to build three sets of metal gates for Rich­mond Fair, he was able to be­gin his pro­posal, “Dad, I’ve got an idea.”

“I vol­un­teered my labour,” Danny says, “and the Fair cov­ered the ma­te­ri­als and other in­ci­den­tal costs. For ex­am­ple, I don’t have the tools to bend tubu­lar frames, so that had to be con­tracted out. Sim­i­larly, the pow­der fin­ish ap­plied to the gates was also done by some­one else.”

Still, what the young Jersey farmer did was quite re­mark­able, es­pe­cially given his work­ing con­di­tions. “I work in the garage,” he says. “I don’t have a work­shop or an ate­lier or any­thing like that. I have sev­eral sawhorses and I use those to sup­port the steel sheets as I work on them. It’s a sim­ple set up but it works.”

Nor are Danny’s artist’s hours the best. “The Rich­mond Fair gates took about 600 hours of work. I started work­ing on them in March and they were in­stalled on Septem­ber 2, just five days be­fore the Fair opened. Be­cause I was do­ing this in my spare time, I ended up keep­ing er­ratic hours. I’d go out to the garage at eight o’clock and I’d get lost in my work and when I checked the time, I’d see that it was three in the morn­ing. That didn’t hap­pen ev­ery evening, but it did hap­pen a cou­ple of times a week.”

Still, he was al­ways ready for his day job at 6:00 a.m.

The gates are big. Four of them mea­sure 10 feet tall and the other two mea­sure nine feet tall. In terms of length, two mea­sure 19 feet each, two 14 feet each, and the last two nine feet each.

Across the top of each gate are the words, “Expo Rich­mond” or “Rich­mond Fair.” Un­der­neath the let­ter­ing are scenes de­pict­ing var­i­ous el­e­ments of farm life from but­ter­flies to trac­tors. Th­ese are ren­dered like sil­hou­ettes, but in­stead of black ink on white pa­per, they are dark-painted steel against the back­ground of the fair grounds and the hills be­yond.

“The first task for ev­ery scene was weld­ing,” Danny ex­plains, “The steel I was us­ing was 14 gauge which means it would mea­sure be­tween one six­teenth and one eighth of an inch in thick­ness. It comes in eight foot by four foot sheets, like ply­wood, and I had to cut and weld sheets to get the re­quired size for each gate.”

“Then,” he con­tin­ues, “us­ing a crayon spe­cially made for metal, I would draw the scenes. They’re all dif­fer­ent and in each one there are as many dif­fer­ent as­pects of the Fair as I could squeeze in, in­clud­ing the mid­way. Once I was happy with the draw­ing, I started cut­ting out the metal leav­ing the sil­hou­ettes.”

The cut­ting was done us­ing a plasma cut­ter that runs on elec­tric­ity and air the same way that a torch runs on propane and oxy­gen. As long as the cut­ting process is the buff­ing that has to fol­low. “If I spend two hours cut­ting,” Danny says with a wry smile, “I know I’m go­ing to be spend­ing two hours buff­ing. I used well over $1000 on buff­ing wheels to fin­ish the gates.”

While Danny Perkins do­nated his time, the Fair Board dis­bursed some $10 000 to cover the dif­fer­ent costs as­so­ci­ated with the project, from the steel sheets that served as artist’s ma­te­ri­als to the fi­nal coat of pro­tec­tive paint.

The Rich­mond Fair gates are some­thing of a large, pub­lic work for the young metal artist, but for the last two years he has also been cre­at­ing lots of other dec­o­ra­tive pieces in metal, much smaller in scale, and well suited to adorn a wall, just as an oil paint­ing might.

His work at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion and buy­ers at the craft fair held at Rich­mond Re­gional High School at the end of Septem­ber. “I sold quite a few pieces,” he ad­mits, “and I was ap­proached by one per­son who asked if I’d be in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing at the Mon­treal Craft Show. I was in­ter­ested un­til I learned that the show runs for 10 days. It’s hard to be away from the farm for that long.”

Still, he’s shown his work at craft fairs in Sher­brooke and in Drum­mondville.

“Right now,” he says, “I’m try­ing to fill in ap­pli­ca­tion forms for art sym­po­siums in Que­bec City and Danville. They’re dif­fi­cult to fill out. I can show some­body what I cre­ate, but what I do is dif­fi­cult to put a name to.”

For the time be­ing, the art form that Danny Perkins prac­tices, will have to make do with ad­jec­tives: beau­ti­ful, lovely, at­trac­tive, charm­ing.

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