Artist specializes in far-out fish
Driftwood, steampunk creations
By James Card
Fremont artist Shane Welbes creates two types of fish sculptures: ones that capture the natural beauty of driftwood and those that have a pseudo-mechanical steampunk appearance.
For the beauty found in nature, he curates driftwood through the year that he finds washed up on the shores of the Wolf River and Lake Poygan. He saves sticks and slabs and gnarled chunks.
One by one in a patchwork collage fashion, they eventually form into a giant bluegill or a trophy-sized musky.
There is the other kind of fish that is hard to describe. They are a Frankenstein with fins; they are original and one-of-a-kind creative; and they are appealing to those they appreciate the steampunk aesthetic.
The term “steampunk” is a subgenre in art, film and literature that incorporates retrofuturistic creations influenced by 19th century steam-powered machinery.
And they are eye-catching. Welbes recounted how at art shows he would notice a wife accompanied by a very bored husband. With one glance at his fish sculpture, the husband would spin on his heels towards his display with a newfound enthusiasm.
Summer is the time to work on his driftwood creations and he says it is too hot to fire up the kiln that is in his garage. His art studio is atop his garage and is accessed by a circular staircase.
He shares the loft with his wife, Erika, who is also an artist and an art teacher in Oshkosh.
Their two boys come up and create their own clay creations. Fall and winter is when he likes to work on his craft. The fish are formed and then fired in the kiln and then painted.
He experimented with glazes but decided too many things could go wrong so he paints the final finish himself.
With sculpting the fish, he starts from the back.
“Once you get to the head it’s more detailed and you have to slow it down a bit. It’s like a puzzle almost,” said Welbe.
At age 43, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. It is stage four and he does chemotherapy every other week.
He is 51 now and sees it as a turning point.
“But that’s the blessing. I was able to focus more on my art. I had all this energy but I was feeling run down from the chemo. This allowed me to get all that out because usually I’m a busy guy always doing something,” said Welbe. “It’s something I could do when I felt good and could leave it and come back. That’s when my art really came out.”
Currently his work is featured exclusively at the Smokin Bean coffee shop in Fremont. His artwork is also sold through word of mouth and on Facebook and Pinterest.
Search for “Boom Bay Pottery” as the keywords.