JD Bumgarner can take a bucket of junk – junk, gears and other odds and ends – and turn it into art.
He has a duck family, a turtle planter, metal flowers…
And on Sunday, the 19-year-old will showcase his artwork at the Munroe-Meyer Guild’s annual Garden Walk in Omaha.
Money raised from the Garden Walk goes towards providing innovative research, equipment and programs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe Meyer Institute, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Bumgarner, who has cerebral palsy and a learning disability, struggled with reading and schoolwork, his mother Hope said. While fine motor skills can occasionally be a problem, the greater challenge is processing information quickly.
Seeing her son take up welding has been a blessing, Hope Bumgarner said.
“As parents, we worried about what he would do for a living,” she said. “We’re so thankful he found his passion and he’s enjoying it.”
People also read…
JD Bumgarner was first introduced to welding during a bucket of junk challenge hosted by a 4-H club in 2018. Participants are given no instructions on what to make.
“They give you a bucket and say, ‘Do something,'” he said.
Bumgarner, who said he was a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” guy, found the challenge in his alley. He found a triangular piece of metal that reminded him of a beak. He designed a bird.
Since then he has taken on the challenge a few more times, later making a rabbit, a beagle and a combine harvester.
Bumgarner’s parents gave him welding tools and supplies for Christmas 2019 after seeing him continue to produce interesting pieces.
As schools closed early amid the coronavirus pandemic, Hope Bumgarner led morning study sessions. In the afternoons she took everyone to the workshop behind the family garage. JD Bumgarner logged time while he was welding, and his two younger siblings helped out a bit too.
Hope Bumgarner posted pictures of some of her son’s artwork on her Facebook page. Soon people were asking if they could buy the pieces.
He began selling art out of his shop. Over the next year, he began attending art shows to get his name—and his work—known.
Most recently, Bumgarner had a booth at Junkstock.
Scrap metal used in his pieces comes from auctions, donations, and flea markets.
Bumgarner spends as much time as possible at the workshop, which is now in a new location off Main Street in Spencer, Iowa, where he lives with his family. He can knock out several pieces over the course of a day at the store if they’re versions of pieces he’s previously made. He might only do a piece or two if it’s a new design.
Bumgarner has many favorites including a turtle shaped planter and a horse head. But lately he’s been interested in special commissions. On his list now is the creation of a Loch Ness monster to be placed in a lakeside house.
When starting his company, Mom asked Bumgarner about his mission statement. He knew right away: “Inspiring others while breathing new life into junk metal.”
Groups of people with special needs have visited Bumgarner’s store, which also has a showroom, to learn more about his business.
“It’s really an inspiring story,” said Hope Bumgarner. “He doesn’t have a typical college degree. He did not go to technical school. He was able to combine his passion for art and knowledge of welding into something very creative.”
Although Bumgarner never participated in Munroe Meyer programs, his story still exemplifies the organization’s work, said Luann Rabe, president of the Munroe Meyer Guild. The involvement of an artist like Bumgarner shows that young people with special needs have unique skills and can contribute to society, Rabe said.
“It just shows what all people can do,” she said. “The Munroe Meyer Institute’s mission is to help people achieve peak performance.”
Bumgarner will be exhibiting a variety of artworks at Garden B, 7806 Manderson Circle during the Garden Walk. His work can also be found at jdsmetalart.com or on Facebook.