New York Local 3 member Mitchell Siegel has been turning scrap metal and other items from jobsites into art for the past few years, making pieces for friends, family members, co-workers, local organizations and sometimes just for the holidays. (Click the numbers to advance the photos.)





New York Local 3 member Mitchell Siegel doesn't look at scrap metal on jobsites the same way most wiremen do. For him, that discarded material is inspiration.

The third-generation journeyman has been turning scrap into art for the last few years. It's an extension of the woodwork he's been doing since before he started his apprenticeship more than 30 years ago.

"It's become a lot of fun," said Siegel, who counts several uncles and cousins as Local 3 members. "I never considered myself an artist, but I guess I am."

That artistic flair is a family trait, said the Long Island native, noting that both his parents are creative and like to work with their hands.

Family members got Siegel into welding. An avid fisherman, he was looking to buy a fishing rack for his truck when a cousin suggested a cheaper route.

"He suggested I buy a welder and make the rack myself," Siegel said. "Other cousins also inspired me to start welding, and that was the start of my love for working with metal."

Siegel said his projects usually take a few weeks to complete. Once he has an idea, he draws it out small and then uses a tracer to scale it. After that, he cuts it out and usually puts a light behind it.

A favorite tool is his plasma cutter, also known as the "sun in a gun" for how blazingly hot it gets to cut through metal.

"It's a lot of fun to use," he said. "It cuts metal like butter."

While he could use what's called a CNC machine to do the cutting, Siegel said he cuts everything by hand, in part because the machine is pricey, but also because he prefers the process and how the pieces come out.

"When I cut by hand, no two are alike," he said. "Each one is unique in its own way."

Siegel has finished 12 pieces so far. They include a dandelion with petals falling off, a butterfly, a heron and a wheelbarrow with sunflowers.

"A lot of my art is oriented toward my love of the outdoors. I'm a big nature lover," he said. "It's the natural order of things that I'm inspired by."

Another source of inspiration is jobsites, where he gets the bulk of his material for the sculptures.

"I'd say about 99% of what I use comes from recycled metal," he said. "There's something special about taking pieces out of the garbage and repurposing them. If it wasn't for seeing different things on a jobsite, I wouldn't have that initial spark of inspiration."

Some pieces have a personal connection, like the three-foot-tall heart he made for the hospital that treated him after he had a heart attack. Or the butterfly that he donated to his temple's garden, which grows food to donate to those in need. Standing 14 feet tall and with a bench around it, which he crafted from reclaimed skids, the butterfly can be seen from anywhere in the garden.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," he said of the piece, the first he donated.

Siegel's sculptures are the logical extension of all his craftwork, including his electrical work.

"If I can incorporate wood and metal, then light it up, that encompasses everything I do," he said. "It puts it all together."

Siegel's work is popular with his co-workers, said foreman Rob Stankes, who's known the Levittown, N.Y., resident for about 11 years.

"Everybody's always interested in what he's doing. He has a good following," Stankes said. "It's like they say: One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Some of Siegel's favorite pieces are the ones he puts on his lawn for the holidays. He built a heart-themed sculpture for Valentine's Day and repurposed a crown box from a jobsite that showcases different pictures depending on the holiday.

But the one that stands out the most for him is one of his first, which he constructed for Halloween. It depicts Jack and Sally from the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

"I had a lot of fun making that one," he said. "Halloween is my favorite holiday."

In keeping with his love of his day job, Siegel even crafted a fist holding a lightning bolt and two others with "FGE" — the initials of his employer, Fred Geller Electric. One of the FGE pieces, done a few years ago, was inspired by a conversation Siegel had with an apprentice.

"He asked me one day if I had ever used a hot knife or hot wire, so I brought mine in and we did a sign to put on the foreman's office wall," he recalled.

A family man, Siegel said his biggest supporters are his wife, Michelle, and sons P.J. and Shawn. Sometimes they even name the pieces.

"They're always inspiring and helping me," he said. "They are why I do all of what I do."

It's that base of support, along with the camaraderie of his fellow tradespeople, that encourages Siegel to keep expanding his horizons.

"You should never stop trying to do different things," he said. "You should do all the things that bring you joy."