Sparks are sure to fly when Trey Culpepper of Pleasant Hill spots an old piece of farm equipment or rusty tin. Items usually tossed out as trash or unfixable junk are repurposed into furniture, home decor, sculptures and more by the Dallas County resident who says his talent stemmed from pure curiosity.
Culpepper, an Auburn University graduate and Black Belt native, is quite an anomaly. Though his degree in agricultural economics and business implies he’d be a left-brained, inside-the-box type of guy, he’s really an artist.
“My dad always had hobbies, from hot rods and boats to row-crop farming,” said Culpepper, 30. “He farmed practically his entire life. When equipment broke down, he was his own mechanic and welder. I was always intrigued by the welding.”
One day, that intrigue found a voice, and Culpepper told his dad he wanted to try his hand at the trade.
“He gave me the leads and a piece of metal and said, ‘Here, play with it.’ So, I did,” he recalled. “Welding quickly became something I really enjoyed.”
While welding is a big part of his life today, Culpepper says his first love was for the land.
“Farming is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “Growing up, I watched my grandfather and my dad farm, and I loved being around it. I was fortunate enough to be able to see Dad farm when everything was in its prime. Unfortunately, by the time Dad started slowing down, I was too young to take over.”
After he returned home from college, the family transitioned Culpepper Farms from a land of row crops, cattle and hay to Oyster Ridge — a wildlife preserve with 1,300 acres of loblolly and longleaf pines. It wasn’t the only transition in Culpepper’s life, though. After he fully developed his craft, welding became a way he could preserve childhood memories. Rusted parts or busted axles were unique elements he could incorporate into useful things he’d never have to part with. Over time, his hobby became his passion — though it wasn’t until he and his wife, Elizabeth, started dating that the creative side of his welding projects began to take root.
“She’s from Mountain Brook, bless her heart,” Culpepper said of his wife of five years, cracking a smile. “We’d be in the area and find something we’d like, and I could look at it and figure out how to recreate it. I could just see it all come together before I even started.”
Envisioning the finished project is the easy part, he says. The most time-consuming part is cutting the materials and getting them exactly like he wants. The self-proclaimed perfectionist cuts each piece by hand.
Culpepper’s pieces aren’t all ornamental, although his Christmas ornaments are admired this time of year. Meat flippers, made with welded hooks and wooden handles turned from cedar harvested from his family’s farm, are among his most popular pieces. While the function of the piece is simple, the originality of design rests primarily with the handle. Each has different grain marks and structure — from heavily grained colorations to fluctuations in the shape.
Culpepper also has made a grill, fire pits, stools and beverage tubs. He even welded a bottle tree for his mom. While a majority of pieces are made for family and friends or sold by word of mouth, Culpepper’s art is also sold in stores near his home. Black Belt Treasures in Camden, Mustard Seed in Demopolis and Four Seasons Garden Center in Selma carry his work, and he’s sold pieces at a few craft shows.
Finding time to expand his craft is a challenge. Culpepper serves as estate manager for Belvoir Plantation in Dallas County, an antebellum cotton plantation built in 1825, and welds for local farmers. His priority, he said, is making sure he spends ample time around Oyster Ridge with his family — especially his 16-month-old son, Ford.
“I’m fortunate that I have some flexibility with my jobs,” he said. “Elizabeth and I are able to spend a good bit of time together, even at craft fairs, and I get to stop in and see Ford more than I ever could if I had an eight-to-five job. I’m blessed.”
To buy one of Culpepper’s designs or discuss a custom piece, contact him at (334) 375-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For about Oyster Ridge, visit OysterRidge.com.