Retired Steve Rabong realised he had a lot of stock metal in his workshop – and a lot of time on his hands – when the first lockdown happened. He’s spent the past year or so upcycling anything from church bell clappers to horseshoes into ingenious sculptures. Here’s his story
My name is Steve Rabong and I live with my wife, Sue, in Loddon in South Norfolk. I have lived and worked in Norfolk all my life. After school I began my working life in 1977 on a farm for 15 years, then had my own gardening business for a while. After that I worked on renovating barns in the building trade then as a courier in stationery, mostly to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, until I took early retirement in June 2019.
My main hobby has been church bell ringing which I started doing as a young lad of 12 and has continued throughout my life. This has taken me to lots of interesting places, meeting like-minded people. It was while making a full-size replica of a bell with a friend in 2016 that I rekindled my interest in welding.
Around that time, I had come across Norfolk sculptor, Harriet Meads who makes sculptures from scrap metal. Although I could never hope to produce work in her league as a professional artist, her work inspired me, catching my imagination and I started to wonder if I could make something along those lines.
Working from my home workshop I had a go making a hare out of old tools and scrap metal. It turned out rather well and I was pleasantly surprised when people said how much they liked it. So, I made some more and after a while a friend asked if I would sell her one. This gave me the confidence to try other things and then another friend asked if I could make a dragonfly.
It took a while to do, but once I had the idea of using a bell clapper for the body, things just fell into place. I started to get metal from various places including car boots. It’s funny how you start to see shapes in old tools once you start looking with different eyes!
I am lucky to have a contact who works as a bell hanger where I can source bell clappers which come from restoration projects all around the country. They do wear out and need to be replaced if they are not repairable. I have even had one from the bells at St Paul’s Cathedral in London! Farm scrap is also ideal, when I can get it, and I use a lot of horseshoes in my sculptures. It’s nice to think I can recycle something that has come to the end of its life and will go on in another form.
I had a lot of stock metal when the first lockdown happened in March 2020. I was making every day in the workshop which was a real help to give me something to do and take my mind off the situation we all found ourselves in. I started to come up with new ideas including pigs and butterflies. I also made a horse head, cows head, bulls head, sheep’s head…the list goes on! I also made smaller things with horseshoes such as wine racks, boot racks, lamps and clocks.
The time in the workshop was a great help and the weeks seemed to go quickly. Now, as we emerge once again, I feel lucky that I found such an interesting hobby that passed the time in a productive and creative way. I didn’t really know I would be any good at making sculptures till I tried. I don’t have lots of expensive gear either, just basic tools and a willingness to give it a go! The fact that people seem to like what I do is a real bonus to me and has also boosted my confidence.
Up to recently I only sold things to friends via my Facebook page. Some pieces I consider one offs, and some items I can reproduce. My favourites are the dragonflies followed by the pigs which have real character. I had some craft fairs booked in the diary for 2020 which obviously got cancelled.
I approached a local garden centre to see if they would consider doing something with them, which they have. They are now available to view or purchase at Green Pastures Plant Centre. I also have a Facebook page where you can see more of my sculptures.
I will certainly carry on doing this for as long as I can source materials and will just seeing what new ideas I can come up with. Why not have a go making something? You may surprise yourself too!