Penn College welding club teams up with famous metal artist to create 9-foot statue
The welding club’s 9-foot “chopper” style motorcycle statue is now a permanent art piece on the Penn College campus.
Williamsport, Pa. — One student’s decision to approach a famed metal artist will leave a lasting mark on the Penn College campus in the form of a 200-pound, 9-foot-long motorcycle sculpture.
The sculpture, now situated at the north end of the campus mall, evolved out of a meeting between student Skyler R. Graver and artist Rae Ripple last autumn.
“It’s awesome that the school allowed us to do something like this. I really hope it becomes a focal point of campus,” said Steve J. Kopera, who along with fellow welding instructor and co-adviser to the AWS club, Cody W. Wolfe, led the 10-student fabrication team.
The team spent countless hours outside of class working in shifts during a six-week stretch to create the sculpture out of two sheets of stainless steel and donated materials.
“I don’t think there’s a substitute for real-world experience,” Kopera said. “They learned a lot about fabrication, working together as a team and time management. We’d have to get one part done before the next one could start. I’m really excited how it turned out.”
Fittingly, the project’s origin can be traced to Fabtech, North America’s premier metal forming, fabricating, and welding event.
Graver, of Palmerton, attended the annual showcase in Chicago with other Penn College students and faculty and spotted Ripple at a booth displaying 7-foot-tall metal butterfly wings that she had fabricated.
Graver was starstruck – Ripple has been featured on Discovery Channel’s “Monster Garage” and the Netflix series “Metal Shop Masters” – and needed a pep talk from her mom before approaching Ripple the following day.
“I called my mom, and she said, ‘She’s just a person. Walk up to her and maybe she’ll want to do something with your school,’” Graver recalled with a smile.
Mom was right.
“I walked up to her, and she was totally into the fact that I was a female in engineering and that we have a fantastic welding program,” Graver said. “I just said to her, ‘Hey, would you want to come down and visit us and see what we’re all about and maybe collaborate on a project?’”
The Texas-based artist was smitten with Graver’s personality and passion.
“We talked for a long time,” Ripple said. “She’s just a beautiful person. She has a beautiful soul. I love her to death. The future is at our schools, so it’s very important that these people take over what I’m leaving. These kids are everything to me.”
The new friends agreed that any project would be student-made, with Ripple applying the accent piece. “She let us have free rein on what we wanted to do,” noted Graver, who is president of the AWS club.
With the support of the college, club members decided to fabricate a motorcycle, a passion of many students and Ripple, who has worked as a motorcycle stuntwoman.
“Who doesn’t like motorcycles? They’re timelessly cool,” Kopera said. “And we thought a motorcycle would be an accurate representation of the spirit of Penn College.”
The student crew chose a chopper-style motorcycle design, featuring a hard-tail frame, a high and long rake, an old-style “coffin” gas tank and V-twin engine. The look of the wheels would be reserved for Ripple’s artistry.
“There was definitely a learning curve for all of us because none of us had worked on such a big project together,” Graver said.
“The most challenging aspect was making everything fit cohesively because there were multiple groups working on different parts,” explained Nikolas J. Harnish, a welding and fabrication engineering technology student from Newmanstown. “It was hard to make the parts look like the same person made them. Instead of one sculpture, it’s many pieces all in one sculpture.”
“Everybody would build their thing, and we would take time and sit there and figure out how it all went together,” added Ira B. Bailey, of Huntingdon, majoring in welding and fabrication engineering technology. “The motor was tough because we had to bend the bar all the way around to make the cylinder heads. It was just bar after bar after bar. Keeping everything straight so it wasn’t funky looking was probably the toughest part.”
Harnish employed 3D modeling software to design the gas tank and wheels before working with other students to cut and assemble the required pieces.
“I’m really happy because I put my heart and soul into making that motorcycle, and my craftsmanship shows through,” he said. “I think it was fabricated really well by everyone in the group.”
Ripple agreed with that assessment after seeing the motorcycle prepped for her contribution in the college’s 55,000-square-foot welding lab.
“What a fabulous job they did,” she beamed. “You see the craftsmanship that went into this? This is incredible! Absolutely honored to be part of it.”
Following a collegewide presentation, Ripple spent about an hour effortlessly maneuvering a plasma cutter to “grow” flower-like designs on the wheels. Sparks – instead of stencils – guided her meticulous movements.
“She would just shave layer by layer by layer,” Bailey said. “She would take her time and make sure it all had the same look. It was neat to see someone use a plasma cutter in that kind of way.”
“It was so impressive. She’s almost as good as a CNC machine,” Harnish said in amazement.
“Rae made the wheels pop and gave them definition. She added a neat dimension to the bike,” Kopera said.
Ripple returned the praise.
“I’m completely blown away by the facility, the equipment used and the technology here. I have never seen a school this equipped with this much technology,” she said. “I get to leave a piece of me here!”
The motorcycle’s permanent placement on campus isn’t lost on the students.
“I can come here one day when I’m old, and say, ‘I went to college and built that.’ It’s awesome,” Bailey said with a wide grin.
For Graver, the promise of a prominent campus legacy just adds to the surreal nature of the entire project initiated by her shy approach of Ripple months ago. “It’s incredible to think about that,” she said.
In addition to Bailey, Harnish and Graver, the following students worked on the motorcycle sculpture: Patrick C. Evanko, Columbus, N.J.; Emilee A. Frazier, Fredericksburg; Jeremy L. Hanes, Sabinsville; Robert E. Kisner IV, Ulster; John Moen, State College; and Curtis P. Stover and Noah M. Yost, both Beech Creek.
Frazier and Kisner are in the two-year welding technology major, and the other students are all seeking a bachelor’s degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology.