Once a janitor, now an “art welder.” Catherine Murphy forged a path from construction materials to butterflies.
by Erin McWhorter . photos by Matt Rose
In her 20s, Catherine Murphy was a college dropout who learned to weld. In her 30s, she rode a Harley Davidson and sold welding supplies. In her 40s, she became a full-time copper art welder and created the Haw Creek Forge. Now, in her 50s, Murphy is forging a new path for herself and her 19-year business.
At her janitorial job with Clark Equipment Company in Skyland in 1977, where she went to work after leaving Appalachian State University, Murphy became intrigued by the sparks and smells of welding. Soon after, she attended Blue Ridge Community College, and later, Hope Arts School of Welding Technology in Troy, Ohio. The Virginia native spent part of her childhood in Hendersonville, and she moved back to the area in the late ‘80s.
But somewhere along the way, Murphy discovered welding couldn’t be her life-long pursuit. At her first construction job at a paper mill in Mansfield, Louisiana, she met an older woman worn ragged from the heat and heights of rugged welding work. She remembers thinking, “‘I love what I’m doing, but I don’t want to be her. I don’t want to be doing this when I’m 50.”
So, like many Ashevilleans, she chose an artful path. Murphy, a Haw Creek resident, learned how to make copper into delicate artwork at a John C. Campbell Folk School copper class. She began carrying her own small copper and blacksmithed garden pieces as she traveled throughout Western North Carolina selling welding supplies.
By 1991, after participating in a Burnsville art show, she started the Haw Creek Forge, selling small copper garden artwork full time. Now, she has six employees in a large Riverside Drive studio in Woodfin and sells nature-inspired pieces at the North Carolina Arboretum, New Morning Gallery and Grovewood Gallery.
The average Haw Creek Forge creation takes about two hours from start to finish. It starts with sheet copper, tubing and wire, and after the pieces are formed and welded, they’re coated with a chemical that colors the copper. Haw Creek Forge is currently assembling a large commissioned piece for Mission Hospital to decorate 150 feet of brick wall with copper dogwood trees, vines, birds and bugs.
In the last few years, Murphy has branched out into the world of abstract art with Catherine Murphy Designs, creating texturized square wall hangings with jags of bright color running through them. She’s always taken pride in the quality of her functional pieces. But the independent line allows her much more freedom to experiment—and it’s grown on her. “I’ve become what I call an ‘art welder,’” she says. “The more I do welding as an artist, the more it looks like an artist who learned to weld.”
To see more work by Haw Creek Forge and Catherine Murphy, go to www.hawcreekforge.com.