The Metal Arts of Jason Morris

By Alison Minard

What do musicians, a pirate, a warrior, a moonshiner, a

wizard and a desperado have in common?  They are the

literal nut and bolt creations that come from the imagination

of Harnett County metal artist, Jason Morris.

In 2017, from October to December, Morris was one of nine

artists featured in “Reclaimed,” an exhibit presented by

the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, which

promoted the use of recycled materials in new and creative

forms. Morris submitted six of his sculptures for the exhibit.

The exhibition was sponsored by the city’s Environmental

Services Department and Waste Management.

In front of the rural Harnett County home that Morris shares

with his wife, Liz, are a host of interesting characters that he

ingeniously created from old pieces of abandoned metal and

twisted steel.

One of his first pieces was “Ethan,” named for ethanol gas. He was screwed together, not welded.  “He has a gas pump for a hand, and his head is an old car exhaust,” he said. “I fashioned his body from a test pump I found at the military scrap yard.” His eyeglasses are spoons, his nose is a socket and his mouth is a wrench. The long legs are exhaust pipes – which fit perfectly, right down to his decorative socks, made from upside down utensil holders. His careful attention to detail imbued Ethan with personality.  “Each one is a learning process. None are the same,” he said.

Morris began working with metal about two years ago, and uses a welder to reveal new shapes and forms in the scraps of metal he collects. “I like to work with steel, brass, stainless steel and copper,” he said. He sands the metal, shapes it and sometimes lets it rust.

“I try to create a new sculpture every couple of weeks,” he said.

His first welding tool came from Shooters Supply Store, in Fayetteville, with the inclination to create something, he said. Next, he bought a grinder. “Those are my two main tools,” he said. Aside from one class in welding, he has mostly learned his craft through trial and error. “I’m a self-taught welder,” he said.

The moonshiner was the first piece he made using moving parts. It is a composite of a man sitting on a keg, next to a still, with a dog. “The dog’s neck is on a spring which allows his head to bob.” He repeated the effect by using large springs for the moonshiner’s legs, which dangle freely and move about.

Morris, 49, who is originally from Mebane, is not your quintessential artist. The artist lifestyle emerged late in life, he said. “I got into art after a trip to Iraq.” He moved to Harnett County in 1992 to take a job as a game warden, which was followed by 20 years of working in law enforcement. Until he retired in 2010, he worked with the Lillington police department, and with the Harnett county sheriff’s department as a detective in narcotics, and with SWAT. Now, he does military contract work. “The contract work supports my art,” he said. “I’m semi-retired, but I’m currently taking time off to work on my art.”

His workshop is a mix of creative art pieces and metal parts that have been hauled out of local scrap yards. “I’m like a kid in candy store at the scrap yard,” he said. There are buckets of metal pieces to be used as eyes and buckets filled with noses. “People give me parts,” he said. “I also visit Habitat for Humanity and antique stores to find the materials I need. Sometimes I will spend hours digging around.” Used saw blades, fire extinguishers, plow discs and old satellite dishes are some of his finds.

He begins each of his sculptures with the face and the head. “It gives them character and a personality,” he said. “Then I build from there.” Inspiration comes easily. “Sometimes I’m inspired by a part that I find and then I figure out how to make it into something else. At other times, I have an idea first and I hunt for the parts to make it.

He was watching spaghetti westerns on television when the inspiration came to make

a desperado with two six shooters, and a machine gun belt.

Another project was a pirate, “with a burly look like Black Beard,” he said. The

mustache and beard were created out of drill bits, which give them a fluid shape

and texture. His arm is fitted with the proverbial hook. His peg leg is a shell casing.

“I am still collecting parts for him,” he said. He isn’t finished yet. “I ran into some

welding problems because of the type of materials I used.”

“The biggest challenge is to make each piece flow together properly; the size, the

texture and the color. It has to have the right proportions from the head to the feet,”

he said.

One of Morris’s goals is to create larger projects that can be installed in parks, or on

campuses, he said. Future ideas for sculptures include a fly fisherman, a forester

and a hunter. “I picture an idea in my mind and then I create it with my hands so

that people can enjoy it. The next one will come to me. It always does,” he said.

You can see more of Jason Morris’s work at River to Sea Gallery, in Wilmington, and at The Mermaid’s Purse, in Surf City.  For more information, contact The Harnett County Arts Council, harnettarts.com, harnettartscouncil@gmail.com or Jason Morris Creations.

jason morris - metal artist

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