A Scrap Metal Saga: The Automotive Machinist Who Became an Artist

When do used auto parts become art? When they’re in the hands of James Selby.

Selby spent 35 years as an automotive machinist before turning artist, opening a studio in Santa Rosa to create sculptures from scrap metal. At 50, his fascination with old metal gears and parts led him to take a beginning welding course at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he discovered how to use his love of art and metal through sculpture.

Using a piece of soapstone, Selby begins by sketching an idea onto his “chalkboard,” a 4-by-8-foot metal table. He then lays coils, gears and other metal scraps onto the design and welds them into whimsical pieces that resemble people and animals. Ninety-nine percent of his metal is donated by friends and strangers.

In 2002, he first took his works to the Windsor Certified Farmers Market, selling everything in two weeks. He went on to a juried fine-arts show, winning first place. Now 63, Selby is a full-time artist, welding more than 50 sculptures a year and selling them or $150 to $3,500. Many pieces are donated to local nonprofits.

Selby’s public sculptures can be seen in Windsor at the Community Development office and at Fire Station No. 1, and in Santa Rosa at the Woodenhead Vintners tasting room, Worth Our Weight culinary program and Steele Lane Elementary School.

Selby Scrap Metal Design is open by appointment. Selby also off–ers metal-design workshops there, where participants design their own sculpture and leave with a finished piece ($250 or a half day, $500 or a full day).

“I hope my work inspires others to be creative,” he said. “My greatest joy comes from my workshops, where participants discover the artist in themselves.”

47 Foley St., Santa Rosa, 707-484-1598, selbydesign.com.

James Selby. (Photography by John Burgess)
James Selby. (Photography by John Burgess)

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