New life in old metal

A welder’s skill and artistic eye tickles the imagination

Warwick Beacon ·

Richard Boudreau has a gift.

He sees things where others don’t. Yes, he sees a shovel. But he also sees the shell of a turtle, the torso of a saxophonist or the tail of a fish – or could it be a mermaid?

On a recent visit to his garage in Conimicut, he held up a pitcher with a sharp V-spout.

“Do you see it?”

It’s a pitcher until he turns it over. The spout is now a nose.

Richard makes the transition to face all the more obvious. He’s welded on eyes and ears. The rolled over lip of the pitcher makes a mouth. This will be the third player for the jazz trio in his yard. He’s a trim player with rounded nose shoes with shiny brass buckles. The shoes are a fire extinguisher that he’s cut in half. The buckles are off a filing cabinet drawer and once held slips of paper to indicate its contents.

Richard’s creations are made from kitchen utensils, tools, engine parts, car parts, patio furniture, department store clothing racks, pots, wheels, propane tanks, light bulbs, costume jewelry … a ship’s rudder and a seemingly endless quantity of items people have dropped at his house or he has found discarded. Most of what he re-purposes is steel, but there’s also aluminum, brass, copper and every so often some silver. A spoon could be an ear, a tongue or eyes.

It all comes to life, from whimsical characters like his jazz trio to a lion, made from a home heating oil tank, whose glass eyes appear to follow you. Others include a crane with a welcoming smile beside the pathway to his front door; the frog in the grass; the giant fish swimming above his fence; the owl in the tree; and the locomotive engine that is a bird house.

Richard’s garage is a veritable petri dish of what many would classify as junk waiting for his vision and skill to come to life. He describes that inspiration as a “picture” that flash in his mind for only a second. The challenge is to assemble the elements to make it reality.

Since he was a youth, Richard says he’s had a passion to be creative. He grew up in Cranston, but by the time he reached high school, the family had moved to Warwick and he was enrolled to attend Pilgrim.

“That’s when I made the biggest mistake,” he says. Richard’s father advised him not to quit school, but he did. “I was immediately drafted.”

It was 1970 and he was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a member of a tank crew. His tank – Easy Rider – was one of three that patrolled together as part of a larger squadron including four or five armored personnel carriers. He can’t say exactly where he was.

“We were never where we were supposed to be,” he says. Easy Rider was never hit, although others were.

After a year in Vietnam and at the conclusion of his two years in the Army, Richard returned to his job at Leviton in Warwick. At some point he left Leviton and went to work at Electric Boat, where he was taught how to weld. He was skilled and elevated to the position of pipefitter, which requires more intricate work. He bought his own welding equipment and did some jobs on the side.

He has since retired from EB and for the most part his welding is all about art.

Richard has moments where the Vietnam experience haunts him. When that happens he heads for the garage.

“This is almost a therapy for PTSD.”

Richard and his wife, Theresa, have two children, Renee and Richard. They have lived in Conimicut for more than 40 years. When they bought the lot on Criterion Avenue, Richard planted trees. He points to a towering pine near his driveway. It was once a Christmas tree. The wind recently brought down one of its upper boughs.

Richard lifts it to display a Christmas bulb encased in the branch. He hasn’t gotten the “picture” as to how he’ll use it, but surely it will be reborn. And then there’s the trunk of another tree standing more than 10 feet tall at the other end of the yard. When that tree died, Richard started cutting it down from the top. He got halfway through the job when he stopped and thought about it.

It’s now a totem pole.

Metal is his preferred medium. He’s exhibited at shows here and in Florida and he’s done commission sculptures. He welcomes people to discover his creations, meet the saxophonist and realize the keys to the horn are from a typewriter and his fingers – with rings, of course – are rake tongs.

Richard loves the visitors.

Most of all, he loves it when they laugh. It’s then that he knows, they, too, have gotten that picture transforming scraps of metal, once with a different purpose, into a new life.