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Meet Leslie and Paul Wilton of Metalmorph Sculpture Studio in Escondido

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leslie and Paul Wilton.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Leslie and Paul. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I have always been an artist. For almost 40 years I have been a glassblower. As artists my husband, Paul and I have a great desire to preserve the planet and our resources, We are also avid recyclers and about 8 years ago discovered an art form to combine our love of art with our desire to recycle… upcycled metal sculpture! It all came about rather serendipitously.

We helped a neighbor clean up his property and found this treasure trove of wonderful random stuff. Giant pipe wrenches, homemade bug sprayers, tools and stuff. It was too cool to sell to the metal recyclers so we took it home and then asked ourselves… now what? Well, that week we laid out all the components in our driveway and welded up our first sculpture… an 8′ tall scarecrow named Weego. We had a lot of fun working together and didn’t kill each other as 2 Virgos are proned to do so we have been making reclaimed and up cycled metal sculptures ever since… but, ahem, mostly independently.

Because Paul is also an inventor and master machinist, we have a complete metal shop (I call it our metal studio) where we create our work. Children love our colorful, whimsical sculptures of birds, dogs, bugs and flowers. Our sculptures can also be a bit of a history lesson for kids as they often incorporate obsolete and vintage parts like typewriters and adding machines. Our sculptures are our children so they all have names and sometimes backstories.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Art is never easy. At first, it was a struggle to even find materials. There aren’t junk shops like there used to be. The Chinese bought up all our scrap metal decades ago. One has to scavenge pretty good or be willing to buy things from antique shops. We are reasonably well known now so neighbors drop off stuff in our driveway. It’s still hard to find the really cool components like gears and chains and old equipment and machinery.

For me, it was a challenge to learn how to work with metal. As a glassblower, I’m used to fluid materials. Metal … not so fluid. Fortunately, my husband taught me how to use all the equipment and tools we have. Also, the sculpture does not pack well!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Metalmorph Sculpture Studio – what should we know?
Metalmorph started out as Zjhunk Metal Art. We loved the name but people couldn’t pronounce it, plus how to you spell it in a google search? We changed our name to Metalmorph which reflects what we do. We have exhibited around San Diego County since our inception, most notably up until this year we have shown work at the SD Botanical Garden’s annual sculpture show every year since our inception.

We specialize in the representational art so our pieces, for the most part, reflect animals, insects, flowers and the like. I would say we are known for our bird sculptures. We make more of them than anything else. We also make other things like upcycled lamps one of which was on display at the Del Mar Fair. Our company is unique in that we paint our sculptures. Most other upcycled artist leave the material in its natural state. I like that look at other peoples art but not so much in ours. I’ve always loved bright colors so nearly all of our sculptures are painstakingly painted and sealed. It takes a lot more time but the results are really fun.

As upcycled metal artists we hope to inspire kids to make art and to be mindful of recycled materials… where they come from and what they could be used for rather than just throwing them away. I think one of our best moments was when we had 8 kids ages 10-12 years over for a welding workshop. They were allowed to sift through our junk pile and compile components for their sculptures. This was the first workshop we ever had and both we and kids learned a lot that day. It was supposed to be a couple of hours and turned into all day but what fun we had.

Hopefully, we inspired the kids to continue with recycled art. We also do presentations at schools where we bring in some of our art and some components and do a little show-and-tell for the kids. It is usually followed up by an art project they create with recycled materials and found objects. The results of the children’s art are often surprising!

Along those lines, we recently donated 3 sculptures to the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum in Escondido. The sculptures of a dragonfly, a 5′ tall preying mantis, and a 6′ diameter flower with a bee in the center are now permanently installed and on view to delight the children and inspire them to create with recycled materials.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I would like to thank Naomi Nussbaum and the San Diego Botanic Garden for the years of support they have shown through their annual sculpture show.

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