Creating cutting-edge designs
Kate Chapman meets animal sculptor Kevin Baumber, whose innovative welded designs are proving popular as eye-catching outdoor exhibits.
After a career at the cutting edge of hologram development, where he combined his love for art and science, Kevin Baumber decided it was time for a change – and he now makes breathtaking animal sculptures, affectionately known as Welderbeasts.
Kevin played a key role in developing the small shiny holograms we see on passports, credit cards, banknotes and other items, but became disillusioned with the corporate world.
He set up his own company, Niche Imagineering – which includes Welderbeasts – to draw on his multiple talents, with the intention of making interesting things for interesting people.
Using the welding skills he’d learned through other hobbies, Kevin began creating large-scale sculptures of animals from sheet steel, which are proving a wonderful talking point for the gardens or indoor environments where they are on display.
“For years I’ve always built, raced and shown ridiculous cars, and so armed with my trusty welder and by way of ‘therapy’ I started to create large-scale metal sculptures of animals. The name Welderbeasts is memorable and always raises a smile,” says Kevin, who lives near Bassingham.
“I started off with a bull. It was hanging around for a while, getting in the way and I was spiking myself on its horns, so I popped a picture on social media, and it just lit up, people started ordering them. That was a couple of years ago.
“It has been astonishing how popular they’ve become. I’ve had to move to bigger workshop premises to keep up with demand.”
His first creation was hand cut before being welded together, but to speed up the process – which for larger commissions can take a few weeks to complete – Kevin now draws them on a computer before the pieces are laser cut, hand folded and welded.
Each Welderbeast can be coated with clear or tinted lacquers or even powder coated for the ultimate protection against the elements. Or they can be left to their own devices, and over time will rust as nature works its magic and they slowly oxidise – a trend which Kevin says is popular at the moment, as well as tying in with the Steampunk genre.
“Each piece I make is unique and can be customised. I’m finding customers have a strong idea of what they want. I’m currently working on a couple of sculptures for one client who is into scuba diving – a large sea turtle and a life-size whale tail!” he says.
“I’ve done several bulls, a few stags, which are popular around Christmas time, and a massive scorpion, but there have also been donkeys, Dobermans, sausage dogs and horses, whatever floats your boat really!
“It’s thanks to Covid; when people were stuck at home, they were spending more time in their gardens, and they wanted to try and improve the environment they had to live in. I don’t think people had spent so much time at home before and that’s all played a part in the popularity of my work, I think.”
Kevin has always been interested in art and science. His father was an RAF pathologist stationed at bases around the county, as well as overseas, including a stint in Singapore.
“I spent a lot of my early life in the lab looking down microscopes with Dad,” he recalls.
“I was also really into art – pretty much anything that involved discovery or creating something in some way.
“It always came down to whether I was going to pursue one or the other as a career – and then along came the holography, which is where art and science appeared to collide.”
After leaving school Kevin completed a foundation course at Lincoln College of Art, before moving on to Wolverhampton Polytechnic where he gained a degree in visual communication specialising in airbrush illustration. It was here that his passion for holography – a method of generating real 3D images – was sparked.
“It was a happy accident really, I was walking down a corridor where one of the doors had a nice hologram on it, so I asked where it came from and it turned out that Graham Saxby, whose office it was, was one of the leading lights in the development of holograms,” he says.
“I asked if I could make one and he took me under his wing, so I was doing an art course during the day, then I’d be going down into the basement to make holograms afterwards. It wasn’t just an interesting art form, they were taking off, appearing on BBC TV’s Tomorrow’s World, people were becoming more aware of them.”
Kevin gained a masters degree as part of the newly formed Holography course at The Royal College of Art in London, led by Graham Saxby and later by American artist Peter Miller.
Although the course was discontinued after a few years, it created a great demand for the talents and skills of those few who completed it.
After finishing the course, Kevin took up the role of creative director for a company called Light Fantastic, originally owned by rock legends The Who.
It had a 15,000 square foot gallery in London’s West End and showed large format holograms, laser effects and optical illusions, introducing visitors to the future rather than dwelling on London’s past.
Kevin’s career also took him all over the world working for large corporations and governments.
“Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, I continued to work making holograms and developing them into the complex anti-counterfeit devices we’re all familiar with today,” he explains.
“I was responsible for the holograms used in passports and was instrumental in the design of many of the holograms used on banknotes around the world.
“I’ve created holograms for children’s books, The Guinness Book of Records, product protection for all of the major American sports and the major Hollywood movie studios, luxury goods, DVD covers and software.”
Change of direction
Despite the change of direction, Kevin is passionate about his latest project and is now working hard to let people know about what he is doing.
The majority of his pieces are made to commission through his website and shared on social media, with prices starting at around £400.
“It’s all still embryonic at the moment, I’m just trying to spread the word about what I’m doing,” he adds.
“It’s tough, but I’m really enjoying it and thankfully I have a very supportive wife. It’s great as every piece is different. I’d really like to do some big stuff – maybe an elephant or a velociraptor, that would be good fun!”
For more information visit welderbeasts.com
Photographs: Kevin Baumber/ Niche Imagineering