By Pat Eby Special to the Post-Dispatch
When imagination, ingenuity and engineering collide in the busy garage studio of Brian Watson and Ben Boyher, art happens. Their business, Augusta Missouri Metal Arts, is firmly anchored in the community where private collectors and businesses buy their artworks in metals rusted and repurposed or rich as copper. The giant sculptures, repoussé and flame-patinated panels, weathervanes, custom furniture, signs and letters that emerge from their workshop are integrated into community life in Augusta.
Ducks in a row • Although Boyher and Watson had been working with metals in the flashing and ornamental metal industries together for 10 years, their artworks have supplanted that work and are now the focus of their business. A sculpture in repurposed and upcycled metals they made of a mallard duck coming in for a landing whose wingspan runs 23.5 feet prompted Watson to send out a flurry of emails with photos about the project.
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“We thought if we can get this picture of this duck out there, people will respond because it’s oddball and out of the ordinary. It claims your attention,” Watson says. “It’s a massive business card we can shove out there to see what happens.”
That massive duck, which is among the largest mallard sculptures in the United States, is gracefully articulated and built. Its construction has built-in redundancies to stabilize and strengthen it. Both Boyher and Watson have good backgrounds in solid building techniques. They also custom make tools as needed for each of their projects.
Boyher’s high school art projects in Colorado included building an airplane and a kayak under the direction of an inspirational art teacher, Robert Mann. Boyher was also a partner in a previous construction business renovating homes in the Tower Grove area. He holds a patent for a tool he designed for the marine industry that facilitates work on a specific type of outboard motor.
Watson served six years in the Nuclear Navy, then left to spend 10 years on a team that built a spherical reactor for the creation of titanium nano-powders. When he left the team to move to Augusta he reconnected with her wife’s family, including her cousin Ben. Boyher was as curious about process and building as Watson. Ten years ago, the two began working together.
Moving metal, chasing the dream • Once the two men began working on sculptures, they made a considered move to art. Their custom weathervanes top more than a few roofs in the area, while their repoussé copper panels, designed and made to order, became art pieces in many homes. They flame patinate their panels for additional color and flair. They also design custom furniture that includes metal work, specialty fire screens, candle shrouds, lampshades, small site-specific sculptures, wall hangings and signs.
Today, the two are committed to making art that’s expressive, individualistic, and unique. “Most guys would stay with what they know and make a bunch of money. Instead, Ben and I are building goofy stuff in my garage. What we want now is to make really good art, specifically more large-scale sculptures, that people want to buy. Over the course of 10 years together we migrated three different times to do something different — we’re where we want to stay now,” Watson says.
Which way the wind blows • For both men, the last three years have been a time to reassess what’s important in life. “The downtime from the pandemic definitely caused me to slow down and appreciate the things that are close to us,” Boyher says. “Spending time with my family every day, making our art — those things are more fulfilling. It’s not yet as profitable as working on high-end homes, but it’s the trajectory we’re following.”
“Ben and I have a thing we call the blue coffee cup,” Watson says. “We don’t want to just make blue coffee cups all day,” Watson says. “We don’t want to run a factory here. We’re walking a fine line between keeping things fresh and making a living.
“There’s a market for ducks and other large sculptures, from collectors to clubs to museums. If somebody is interested in a sign for their building that’s unique, we’re OK with that. Right now we’re putting out the word about what we can do and seeing where it lands.”