Betsy Bower pressed two iron bars together and clamped them in place on her work table.
She fitted a welder’s hood over her light blue ball cap and lit a torch. Sparks flew as she fused the two pieces together. Branches and delicate-looking leaves formed the start of a lattice work.
A local businesswoman commissioned the piece for her Casper Mountain home. Bower receive little direction regarding its appearance.
“I love it when customers say, ‘Go for it’,” Bower said.
Bower has earned a reputation locally for both artistic and functional fabrication in the four years since she opened Mills-based Inferno Metalworks.
Wyoming Camera Outfitters owner Dinty Miller knew Bower’s work was the right fit for his new sign, which will be installed after renovations to his downtown Casper storefront are finished.
“She’s got her fingerprints up and down Second Street, and I wanted to continue that,” Miller said. “She’s kind of a Renaissance woman.”
Bower draws inspiration from a wide variety of experiences. As a foreign exchange student in Japan, she relished a culture that emphasized artistry in everything from pouring tea to arranging flowers. In the Nevada desert, she discovered a critical mass of artists and free thinkers at the Burning Man festival.
She joined the circus in Seattle. Bower’s Mills studio features a trapeze stand she built.
“I was trying to find where I belong, as if it was a place,” Bower recently told a group of fellow entrepreneurs.
Instead, she’s found belonging in her work.
Bower grew up in the shop at her father’s side. She remembers being age 12 and chin-high to the work table. She combined scrap metal and off-the-shelf pieces into a 3-foot-tall sculpture of a bee alighting on a flower.
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“Early on, we knew Betsy had many talents, artistically,” said Tom Bower, her father.
He recalled stained glass pieces and woodworking projects she created at a young age. She made a sculpture entirely out of horseshoes – his daughter would bend the iron “U”s and bring them to life, Tom marveled. A piece of rusty, gnarly pipe became a decorative table Tom called a masterpiece. He hoped to keep it, but a woman bought the furniture despite the hefty price tag.
“(Betsy) sees around corners,” Tom said. “She’s one of those people who see what they’re doing before they get started. It’s amazing.”
Betsy remembers professors telling her the only way to make a living as an artist was to be a teacher.
She rejected the notion, instead creating her own education out of weekend workshops, metalwork classes and many mentors.
Betsy spent years working for her father, who owns Bower Welding and Ornamental Iron, but in 2011, Tom told her to find her own shop.
She enlisted a client’s help to find a new place and the equipment to pick up where she left off.
Today, Betsy’s work can be seen at Haven, in the new wing of the Wyoming Medical Center and at restaurants and retail shops throughout Casper. Each piece is confirmation of a longtime dream to be a working artist.
Betsy wants to continue nurturing Casper’s artist community. She wants to encourage more women to build with their own hands using power tools and welding equipment.
She still misses the Northwest and the vibrancy that comes from so many people of varied backgrounds living in close quarters.
But the relationships she’s formed in the Casper area and the resources available to her here are unrivaled, she said.
“It’s a big world,” Betsy said. “But this is a good home base.”
Betsy will keep traveling, and she’s already making plans for a mobile studio to take to the next Burning Man festival.
In the meantime, she’ll continue expanding her business and beautifying her home base, one piece at a time.
Follow reporter Tom Dixon on Twitter @DixonTrib.