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Allyson McPhaul drops the hood of her welding helmet and goes to work.
With steady, confident hands, the local artist cuts an intricate pattern out of a large piece of sheet metal.
When the cutting is complete, McPhaul removes her gloves, picks up the piece with her French manicured fingertips and lays it beside a pile of other small pieces of metal that she will arrange and then weld together into an elegant piece of art.
“I just kind of let the materials speak to me,” said McPhaul, 57, originally of Haslett, Mich. “What I like the most is working on something new, something different. It helps me learn.”
McPhaul rises each morning and takes her two dogs, Poppy and Bill, for a walk around the neighborhood. With the canines and her cat, Jasmine, looking on, she then begins crafting pieces in the garage of her home, which is about a mile from the Glendale Shoals Preserve.
Rain or shine, in the heat and in the cold, McPhaul works. She only packs her tools away as the sun begins to set so as not to disturb her neighbors.
Those tools include a MIG welder and air-powered plasma cutter on a rolling cart, a drill press, grinder and saw. Her garb includes a leather smock and a pair of steel-toe boots that were a birthday present from her husband, local businessman Angus McPhaul. She said he's her biggest supporter.
In the garage, Allyson McPhaul has compiled several shelves of reclaimed lamps, candlesticks, glassware and various other items that she hopes to eventually use in her creations.
Her repertoire includes a range of pieces made from metal, concrete and glass. Some of her work is commissioned by customers, but most of it is from her own imagination.
On her days off, she pursues her other passion — volunteering to work with dogs. She plans to soon launch a fundraising campaign to build more dog runs at the Spartanburg Humane Society.
McPhaul began her artistic career after working as a textile designer.
“I had a great career,” she said. “I got to travel the world. The pay was good. But I had this need, this desire to make things with my hands. I just struggled with not having the time to do those things. I would see pieces of art and literally be moved to tears because it was something I wanted to do. I wanted to do what I wanted to do — not what a company or market wanted me to.”
McPhaul’s father was a photojournalist and her mother worked for the state of Michigan. She has two sisters and one brother.
“We grew up poor,” she said. “It was my mom who taught me how to work hard.”
In high school, McPhaul took an AP English class and decided that she wanted to be a secretary, but she was inspired by her sewing teacher, Ms. Farr.
“I worshipped the ground she walked on,” she said. “She was so fashionable. She really took me under her wing.”
And so, McPhaul began sewing her own clothes.
After high school, she attended Philadelphia University and studied textile design. She decided not to go into fashion.
As her main area of study, she chose warp knitting instead of the more popular weaving, circular knitting and print design.
“I chose it because it was the most difficult,” McPhaul said. “I thought there would be a greater need for that expertise. … That gamble paid off.”
In 1984, McPhaul went to work for Spartanburg-based Milliken & Co. She designed fabrics for the company’s automotive and swimwear products.
Nine years later, she took a job with sportswear giant Adidas. She then worked for Tietex and later Prym Consumer.
In 2000, McPhaul decided to take a welding class for beginners at Spartanburg Community College.
“I was the only girl in the class,” she said. “When it came time to partner up, nobody wanted to be my partner. My classmates didn’t take me seriously. But I passed with flying colors.”
McPhaul’s first project was a bunk bed with a ladder.
“We were on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic with (First Presbyterian Church Spartanburg) helping with cleanup efforts after hurricanes,” she said. “They asked, ‘Can anyone weld?’ I didn’t raise my hand, but my husband did. All I had was a stick welder, measuring tape, chop saw and a right angle.”
A few years later, she decided to go full-time with her art. She said she has been able to infuse her work with many of the concepts she learned in textile design.
She likes for her pieces to be beautiful in form and function. Each piece is powder coated and polyurethaned.
“We had a saying at Milliken, ‘Do it right the first time,’” McPhaul said.
McPhaul named her company "A Piece of Work" because, she said, that’s what she is.
Whether it was competing in bodybuilding at 48, sewing, metalworking or volunteering, McPhaul said she likes to do things completely.
“I don’t do things because I want stuff,” she said. “It is the experience that motivates me. At the end of the day it comes back to what is inside you. What have you left undone?”
McPhaul sells her pieces online, and they are also available for purchase at The Art Lounge at 500 E. Main St.
“Allyson is really unique, and her work is unlike anything you’d find anywhere else,” said Brandi Dice, owner of The Art Lounge. “As a business owner, I want cool stuff in my store. I seek out artists who I believe offer something unique. … It’s a win for them, it’s a win for me and it’s a win for my customers.”