Tom Williams cuts out a quail outline in steel plate at his shop in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Tom Williams cuts out a quail outline in steel plate at his shop in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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Garden gates not only entryways but elegant focal points

Two Snohomish County garden artists share how they create arbors, trellises and gates.

Just like a room in your house, your garden needs an entry.

Arbors, gates and trellises not only serve as an entryway to your garden, but they also provide elegant focal points and the perfect finishing touch.

Here, two local garden artists — both mainstays at Sorticulture, Everett’s annual garden arts festival — share how they create their arbors and garden gates.

• • •

The genesis of Tom Williams’ garden art business, Bayview Welding & Art in Everett, wasn’t art school, but the U.S. Navy.

He learned metal fabrication as part of his training in ship maintenance, after enlisting in 1969.

From there, he worked at Todd Shipyards in Seattle. In his job as a fitter, his expertise was reading blueprints. “So the job had a great deal of responsibility,” he said.

It’s hard to imagine that the man who fit 6-ton bow pieces on a ship under construction in a dry dock later turned his expertise into art.

Williams, 70, specializes in garden gates and arbors, but he also has created more delicate pieces, such as a figure of a blue heron, wings spread, lifting up out of a pond. He has shown his work at Sorticulture every year since 2011.

His gates and other pieces begin with a sketch, from which he makes a pattern that’s traced onto a steel plate. Then he cuts out the parts with a torch.

“By layering flat pieces, I can create a sense of depth,” Williams said.

In his heron sculpture, “the wings are beating down like it’s just left the water. If you look at it closely, it looks like the feathers were made individually.”

Williams’ arbors with custom art can cost $300 to $600. Garden gates can cost $1,800 to $2,000, depending on the materials.

Williams said he sometimes has to remind customers that about half of the price is involved in the design of what he’s creating.

“You’re hiring someone with artistic skills and trade skills,” he said. “I’m … doing the whole thing by hand from start to finish. It’s all strictly art and skill, and I’m very proud of it.”

He said he loves the challenge of committing a design to paper, then fabricating the item from metal, also drawing on skills he honed while earning a degree in commercial art from Olympic College in Bremerton.

One of his creations for a neighbor, Jane George, was an arbor that’s an entryway into her back yard.

She said she had admired an arbor Williams created for his wife. But most of all, she said she just wanted him to be creative. “I let the artist guide the design,” she said.

Her arbor stands about 6 feet tall and is decorated with blooming flowers and birds in flight. “I have southern exposure for roses,” she said. “So we have the perfect place” for an arbor.

When visitors stop by Williams’ studio, they see a man who draws on his experience of 35 years as a metal fabricator and welder.

“I’ve been able to find a niche in this crafts fair business,” he said. “The Navy gave me a skill that has lasted me a lifetime.”

• • •

Roxann Van Wyk has been creating garden trellises and arbors out of copper for 20 years.

“It took me several months of cutting and soldering by hand,” she said. “It was difficult.”

Then some of her neighbors cut back their curly willow trees, producing limbs “that kind of have a mind of its own,” she said, so the arbors “turn out wild.”

“I’ve had so many people say it reminds them of Harry Potter,” said Van Wyk, who lives in Mukilteo.

Van Wyk designs the arbors and trellises, and her husband, Justin Peterson, builds them.

“He’s one of those people who can repair anything with some duct tape and a paperclip,” Van Wyk said. “He’s just amazing.”

Her designs change depending on the materials. The curly willow arbors can be up to 12 to 14 feet tall, Peterson said. Some are finished with copper wiring and tubing.

“Sometimes that makes it very, very challenging just to make sure that they’re stable,” he said. “I have to keep her in check sometimes. I joke that I have to tell her that you can’t hang that piece of steel on a feather.”

Inspired by the willows, the couple also has built arbors out of branches from cedar, hazelnut and big leaf maple trees, as well as driftwood.

Van Wyk and Peterson start gathering materials for arbors in March, and build them beginning in April. The branch arbors generally are priced from $350 to $450, and those made from copper can cost about $700.

She’s displayed her work at Sorticulture for two decades. Her work often sells out by noon on the festival’s first day. She said the trellises are her most popular item. She sold 78 of them in 2019.

Van Wyk, 65, is retired from a 41-year career The Daily Herald, where she went to work after she graduated from high school. Over the years, she held a variety of positions in the news, advertising and commercial printing departments.

She made jewelry as a hobby, selling some to Nordstrom, before a visit to Sorticulture helped develop her interest in gardening and making garden art.

Peterson, 64, works for Teague, a company that designs the interiors of Boeing Co. planes.

“He works full time there, and works evenings and weekends in April, May, June and July for me,” Van Wyk said, adding that her husband also makes bird houses out of cedar fence boards and wine corks to sell at Sorticulture.

Her customers have told her that in the spring, crows and robins break off the tips of the willow branches to use in building their nests.

Hummingbirds are too small to break off bits of the arbors for nests, but they do like perching on them.

“I have a lot of hummingbirds,” she said. “There will be one hummingbird that will take over the arbor.”

If you go

Sorticulture, Everett’s garden arts festival, runs 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 12, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 13 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 14, Legion Park, 145 Alverson Blvd., Everett. Free. The festival includes garden art, specialty nurseries, presentations by gardening experts, display gardens, music, playhouses and children’s activities. Visit www.everettwa.gov/823/Sorticulture-Garden-Arts-Festival for more information.

Gates for hire

Interested in a garden gate, arbor or trellis? Contact Roxann Van Wyk at 425-923-5098 or roxyannvanwyk@comcast.net. Or contact Tom Williams at 425-513-9326 or www.facebook.com/pg/bayview.weldingandart/community.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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