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Welding Steel into Art

Recycling and reclaiming metal is ‘Buck’ Doughty’s passion


“Buck” Doughty credits two mentors for developing his artisan skills.

by Margaret Buranen, Contributing Writer

Some students are lucky enough to land in a class taught by a truly inspiring teacher. That happened to Albert “Buck” Doughty when he enrolled at Eastern Shore Community College in Melfa, Va., and signed up for a welding class taught by Lewis Shields.

“He changed my life,” Doughty says simply.

When they met, Shields had retired from a long career working in the shipbuilding yards of Newport News. There, he had helped build the USS Enterprise and several nuclear submarines. He was teaching welding to pass on the exacting skills he had developed over years.

Doughty had been doing finishing work at Bayshore Concrete when he was laid off. “I learned that I could go to the community college and learn a trade that would pay much better,” he explains.

He became one of the “Shields Boys” — not just a young man with a skill, but one who area employers knew had learned how to weld to precise tolerances. He could be trusted to produce smooth metal surfaces, invisible seams and work that would last. Working for various companies, Doughty did welding on bridges and other major construction projects in the area.

Carving wooden bird decoys is an Eastern Shore pastime. Wanting to be part of the local tradition, Doughty tried his hand at carving, but never felt his efforts were good enough. Seeing backyard metal abstract art with poor welding inspired him to see what he could create with metal and his excellent welding skills.

A member of A&N Electric Cooperative, Doughty also has a second mentor who changed his life. His cousin Danny Doughty, a well-known folk artist and art gallery owner in Onancock, Va., guided him into a second career as a sculptor.

“Danny wanted to do a show with me. He said, ‘Make as many pieces as you can,’” Doughty explains.

There’s more than a little realism in Doughty’s work.

When Danny Doughty saw his cousin’s sculptures, he was amazed. “These are like nothing I’ve ever seen, so highly detailed,” he expressed.

Encouraged by his cousin and people who paid far more for his art than he ever expected, Doughty entered his first juried art show in 2007. His sculptures sold well and he took home the Best in Show award.

To create his steel sculptures, Doughty uses the same tools he uses for welding work: a torch and welder, grinder and chisels. He does not do any casting. He uses crystal-clear enamel to protect each piece from rust.

Doughty’s sculptures are enhanced by colors, such as the lighter spots on a butterfly’s wings, created with a very small tip on his welder’s torch. “Steel is pure and when I heat it very, very slowly and evenly, that brings out purples and blues and golds,” he explains.

These days, Doughty works full-time for the University of Virginia’s Coastal Research Center in Cape Charles. He maintains the center’s vehicles and equipment and takes researchers by boat out to the uninhabited barrier islands.

But his weekend hours are reserved for creating art.

“One thing driving me is that art is the best way for me to be remembered,” says Doughty. “My great, great grandfather was Eli Doughty. He carved fine, wooden duck decoys that President Grover Cleveland liked. They went hunting together. My metal sculpture is my way of leaving my mark, like his decoys.”

For more, check out facebook.com/hogislandcreations.