Paul Barmore: Welding the Montana lure


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Sep 29, 2023

Paul Barmore: Welding the Montana lure

MISSOULA - Montana-themed art is often related to mountains or tree lines, but one local artist has taken a different spin. Paul Barmore is a metal artist born and raised in Montana who makes

MISSOULA - Montana-themed art is often related to mountains or tree lines, but one local artist has taken a different spin.

Paul Barmore is a metal artist born and raised in Montana who makes sculptures of fly fishing lures with a variety of welding techniques.

Barmore grew up outside of Bozeman where his mother was an oil painter and his father worked in timber framing.

He says his artistic vision comes from his parent's contrasting techniques.

“As far as the artistic side versus the functional side, that’s always kind of been an inner battle in my head,” Barmore says. “Because my dad, he is an artist in his own field of timber framing, it’s like a lost art of how to build a house of like these huge timbers, and they put them together in the shop, and he like, engineers them and puts them together himself, and that was always amazing to me. But then my mom just focused on beauty and focused on color and form and all those things, and I liked that a lot.”

Growing up, Barmore was a little businessman. From lemonade stands to selling wooden boats he made with his dad, he loved finding ways to make money.

“I was super entrepreneurial as a kid. I don’t know why. Like looking back it’s funny, I just was like ‘oh, money is good. I got to make money’,” he says. “By the time I turned 11, I had a whole chart on my wall of how much money I would need to make washing dishes to buy a car.”

With his big ideas, Barmore says he sometimes struggled with authority at school. He disliked anytime he was forced to do something a specific way.

“People my whole life have told me like this is the right way to do it, you do it this way. And I was just like, so bored of that,” he says. “I got in trouble so many times, like even stupid writing assignments. They’d say, you have to write it this way. And I was good at writing, but I would write it the opposite way just to be like, there’s more than one way to do it.”

In high school, Barmore took a shop class where he was introduced to welding. He respected the shop teachers because he felt they had mastered a craft, and that inspired him to pursue something similar.

“I wanted to have that respect that I felt for people that I was like ‘you’re obviously an expert, or you know your material, or whatever you’re working with, you know?” he says. “I wanted to have a field in which I was the specialist or something. Like the one who knew how to do something.”

After a gap year, Barmore decided to go to Gallatin College in Bozeman for welding.

Barmore wasn’t sure he wanted to start a career in the field, however. He was hesitant to enter a profession where he may make a lot of money, but hate the day-to-day. He thought he might get stuck in the career.

Soon after, Barmore met a bronze artist named Mitch through his mom. Mitch had a successful career in metal art and started the Foundry in Bozeman. He went on to mentor Barmore and get him to where he is today.

“He sent me on that trajectory, I really respected him for that, for just all his knowledge and the way he lived life,” Barmore says. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps for sure. Man, I just don’t know what it would have been like if I hadn’t met him.”

Barmore hoped to one day work for himself as Mitch did but held a job at a snowboard shop while he welded on the side. He took a few classes at Missoula College and eventually moved to Missoula with his wife.

Today, Barmore has been welding metal art full-time for six years. His main source of income is welding fire media for companies that sell gas fireplaces where the metal pieces resemble Ponderosa Pine logs.

Going full-time with his art has put a healthy amount of pressure on Barmore to keep improving and keep creating.

“I like slowly took these steps, and now I’m at the point where I got to remember I’m not working on this like I got a job to go to next week. I got to make this work now. So that pressure’s been really good,” Barmore says.

While Barmore has to purchase some larger sheets of metal, he uses mainly recycled copper.

“You see it in a dumpster and you’re like, I know what that could be. And that’s exciting. And that’s kind of a practice and a visualization of taking trash and turning it into treasure.”

And he has difficulty throwing any of his own scraps away.

“If you see my scrap bins from three months, they’re barely filled up. Because I have such a hard time throwing bits away that I know I can cut something out of," he says.

Barmore grew up fly fishing and loves the symbol of a lure.

“I so much respect for fly fishing and how long it’s been around,” he says. “I get that fly fishing is like a symbol of Montana culture in a way, you know? So I thought yeah that’s good. That’s an easy thing that someone could take and say yes this is my little memento from Montana.”

But making flies isn’t exactly his passion. He hopes improving on these sculptures will one day lead to something bigger and better.

“I hope my thing is something enormously beautiful but it’s super functional and it’s something useful,” he says. “In the ideal world my dream would be to invent something that no one had thought of, but also design it in a beautiful way, you know?”

Finding an interest is the first step towards finding a life passion, according to Barmore. While it still takes a lot of work to turn an interest into a business, he says finding something to love is a great start.

“That’s the first step, finding that interest. And I really do believe your interests are what guide you into whatever you want to call it– your purpose in life or whatever that is. Your interests are trying to inform you of that. So if you ignore them and you just say, well there’s no money in that or whatever, then you’re going to find yourself at a point where you feel you don’t have any purpose in life maybe,” he says.

Metal, for Barmore, is his interest, and he loves expanding his knowledge and skill of the material. He likes to collect different machines and tools to use different techniques, from fire painting to bending metal into a pattern.

“I’m just rewarded by evolving a craft. Like I’m evolving the way I work with metal and what I know about it. And what I can do visually.”

A process he refers to as “playing.”

“Your job is like — how many hours of your life do you spend working? You know? It’s a lot. So I’d like to spend it playing if I can. I think that’s what I need to be happy,” he says. “You can tell when someone is doing it and they’re just good at it, and you can tell when someone is playing with what they’re doing.”

Barmore has dreams of opening his own shop, inventing a new idea and helping others find joy in a craft.

“This is rad for me, honestly. Like I feel way too lucky. Like I’m way too fortunate to be able to get to do this for a living. So yeah, I feel like it’s my job, if I get to find something that cool, I should share it,” he says.

Learning how to weld has shown Barmore the importance of keeping the trades alive. He worries that because of low pay, the amount of skilled workers is dwindling.

“I think it’s a bummer these days like the trades are just kind of going out of style. I looked at it like I couldn't afford normal college,” he says. “It’s very sad that even in small businesses they don’t pay skilled labor very much, and in a world where we’re going to have a huge lack of skilled labor because no one is, like, training in it anymore, they’re going to have some kind of rude awakening about that.”

Barmore's work is often displayed at the Last Best Shop in Southgate Mall in Missoula, and he will show his work at the SLAM festival in Bozeman form Aug 4 to Aug. 6, 2023. His art can also be found on his website.