SHIRLEY — Young apprentice Sarah Whitney is making garden art and a little bit of extra spending money from the sale of her creative designs.
Nearly every day, the 11-year-old spends her free time in a workshop adjacent to her family’s residence on Benjamin Road.
Surrounded by heavy machinery and many pieces of steel and iron decor she and her father, Mark Whitney, have created, Sarah Whitney has learned to piece together scrap metal into decorative, sellable garden stakes.
Mark Whitney, an experienced welder, takes the pieces of metal Sarah chooses for her designs and welds them together according to her specifications. He then places the nearly finished pieces outside their garage where Sarah must paint them immediately.
It is best to paint the steel decorations while they are still hot, Sarah Whitney explained, because the enamel paint she uses adheres better.
”If they cool down the paint doesn’t stick as well,” she said.
Her designs, under the name of Sarah’s Garden Art, resemble dragonflies, pigs and frogs. All of her creations sit atop a stake to be used as decorative garden art.
For about a year, Sarah Whitney has been designing the garden stakes.
Mark Whitney said he is amazed at some of the ideas his daughter has come up with.
The pig design consists of two horseshoes, welded upside down to metal pieces that form the body, a piece of metal tubing cut short as the head, with two round pieces of scrap for eyes. Adding a squiggly tail, ears and pink enamel paint completes the topper for the stake.
Sometimes, especially if she is creating for someone in particular, Sarah said she draws the plan for a design prior to choosing the appropriate pieces of metal to be welded.
As with most iron decorations, Sarah’s designs can eventually rust when exposed to water. However, all of her pieces are sprayed with primer first then decorated with enamel spray paint, she said.
”If it does start rusting, you just have to take it in the house and repaint it,” she said.
Another trick is to coat the pieces with WD-40 once a year, Mark Whitney said.
This summer, Sarah will start learning how to weld the garden stakes under his direction, Mark Whitney said.
Sarah and her siblings have all been taught since they were very young to use caution when they are in the workshop, as they love spending time there. Since she gets out of school before her father gets out of work, she has to wait an hour-and-a-half to start working on her creations, Sarah Whitney said.
Sarah has to wear all of the safety gear associated with welding. Sarah has her own helmet, cotton and leather clothing, and a respirator, Mark Whitney said.
Through teaching his daughter, Mark Whitney is hopeful that she will be able to carry on the traditional skills that he learned from a craftsman he affectionately calls Mad Jack.
”(Jack) taught me a lot, and I use it,” Mark Whitney said.
During his service in the Navy, Whitney worked as a boiler welder. Currently, he is employed at Minuteman Iron Works in Ayer. There, Whitney welds and creates custom railings and designs for high-end homes.
Mostly, Mark Whitney hopes his daughter will continue creating and welding, at least as a hobby as she gets older.
As for Sarah Whitney, she said she plans to keep working on her designs. With a strong interest in nature, most of the items she creates are animals and reptiles. The family even has a pet turkey named Tom.
Besides creating garden art, Sarah said she also enjoys riding her four-wheeler, and collecting rocks and turtles.