His art is heavy metal

By RENE’ DAY / Community Columnist

In the past several weeks, Day by Day has introduced to some – and re-introduced to others – interesting places that make this county the unique gem it is. But interesting places have a hard time existing without interesting people. Everyone knows that Columbiana is the county seat and retains much of that small-town charm lost by so many places in today’s high-tech society. Art and culture are important to the residents of our county and the Shelby County Arts Council is housed in a building just off Main Street. It is an amazing venue for art and music and will be revisited in a future article.

Keith Lawler of Columbiana comes from a long line of metal workers, but his passion is combining his background in graphic arts with iron and steel and a welder’s torch to bring his ideas to life. (Contributed)

This week’s subject is about an artist using a different medium – yet no less making the community a more beautiful place. When the words “fabrication” and “welding” are used, most folks don’t immediately think of art. Yet, metal has been used through the centuries both to invoke beauty and to provide objects that are utilitarian. For Keith Lawler of Columbiana, both are synonymous. Keith comes from a long line of metal workers – but his passion is combining his background in graphic arts with iron and steel – and a welder’s torch – to make his ideas come to life. As owner of Lawler Ironworks, he can also make clients’ dreams and ideas reality as well.

When you drive out to Lawler’s shop, you hit a dirt road leading to a lovely, rustic home that he shares with his wife, Angela, and son, Luke. Daughter Olivia is away at college in Auburn. Throughout the home, Keith’s fingerprints are seen in the furniture and accessories that decorate it. However, his shop is where the “magic” happens. Special-order items in various stages of completion offer the eye a rich array of possibilities. Obviously, this welder-sculptor-artist-fabricator can repair and construct items needed strictly for utilitarian purposes. But, there are also pieces of garden art, pedestals for tables, lamp bases, and metal sculptures throughout the space. On a recent visit, he showed me a set of handrails he is fashioning for the city of Columbiana. Keith has been careful to ensure that the new handrails incorporate design elements of the metalwork already in place. For most, these will simply be a safeguard to prevent falls. To those who choose to look at them carefully with a “different” eye – they will be artful additions to an already beautiful town.

Another example is a job Keith recently completed. An industrial sewing machine table with a gaping hole where the machine once sat was presented to him. To bring this antique back to life and equip it to serve the needs of today, Lawler fashioned a metal plate that perfectly fit into the hole. He used a special treatment to age and rust the metal so it looked like it had always been there. This ability to combine practicality and art makes Keith Lawler someone good to know and someone good to call when you want a dream turned into reality.