Sculptor and Riverside partner Pat Blide credits his mother, who single-handedly raised four boys and a girl, for much of his current success. “My mom was really influential in getting us all to do art,” he says. “We used to make homemade Christmas presents, or birthday presents for our cousins; we’d paint rocks, turn them into ladybugs.”
This unique ability to make something special out of the ordinary stayed with him for life.
Blide grew up in the small, rural town of Afton, Minnesota. He learned to work with machines on local farms, rode tractors at a neighbor’s and had an influential ninth grade industrial arts teacher who insisted that he master everything he learned, which included welding.
In the early 2000s, Blide started Wild Hair Welding as a hobby, creating sculptures out of mostly found materials. Just as he’d turn rocks into ladybugs as a child, Blide would search around railroad tracks and farmlands for “junk”—spikes, washers, gears, pipes and bolts—that he could turn into art.
Blide began to display his sculptures at craft fairs. “I got nothing but positive responses, which drove me to keep going, to modify and improve.”
Many of his sculptures are inspired by events of his own life—horses and saddles recollect his rural childhood, airplanes hark back to his time as a mechanic—but Blide is perhaps best known for his “Spike Men.” Each Spike person is created by welding together seven railroad spikes—two for each of the legs, one for the torso and one per arm—and topped with a lock washer for the head. With these basics, Blide can make his Spike Men do just about anything—ski, cycle, play instruments, garden.
The Spike Men have proven enormously popular. Blide used to find his railroad spikes by walking along the train tracks but, after determining that the habit was trespassing and dangerous, now sources them from Roseville. “I’m going through 600 spikes [equaling about 85 Spike Men] a month,” he says. “That would have been tough to find.” He laughs at the thought of hauling 600 spikes, “and my arms would probably fall off.”
Blide uses hammer and anvil to bend and form the pieces that make up his Spike Men. When he’s ready to assemble a Spike Man, he begins by tack welding the first piece—usually the leg—to a table. Tack welding is a form of intermittent welding that holds the metal in place while Blide puts the sculpture together. He likens it to a glue gun. “It’s metal that comes out of a gun,” he says. “You put it together with one dot of glue, and when you like it, you go back and glue it all together again.” If a sculpture isn’t coming together the way he imagined, he can easily dismantle the pieces and start anew.
Pat officially joined Riverside Studios in October, 2013.
“Riverside has been an unbelievable outlet for me,” says the sculptor, who notes that he does not have a website because he wouldn’t be able to keep up with work. “It’s beyond my wildest expectations.”
- excerpt courtesy of Tahoe Quarterly, written by Alison Bender