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A Spark Ignites: Harper Wilson’s Journey into Welding Art

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Visit this BOCES student artist at the Alfred Farmer’s Market on Sundays!

By: Johanna Elattar

In bustling Alfred, New York, the local farmer’s market is more than just a place to buy fresh produce; it is a canvas where creativity and craftsmanship merge in an extraordinary way. At just 16 years old, Harper Wilson stands out among the vendors with her intricate metal sculptures, each piece a testament to her talent and passion for welding art. Harper’s journey began at the Hornell BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services), an institution with a rich history of providing specialized educational opportunities to students across New York State.

Established by the New York State Legislature in 1948, BOCES were designed as collaborative educational organizations to support small, rural school districts. The goal was to pool resources to offer programs that would otherwise be unavailable or too costly for individual districts. Over the past 75 years, BOCES have evolved into incubators of innovation, continually developing new programs to meet the changing needs of students. Today, New York State boasts 37 BOCES, each playing a pivotal role in expanding educational opportunities.

Welding is often perceived as a purely industrial process, but for artists like Harper Wilson, it is a medium of limitless creative potential. Welding involves the fusion of metal pieces, creating bonds that are often stronger than the original materials. The process requires not only technical skill but also a deep understanding of various techniques, equipment, design concepts, and safety precautions.

In welding art, the artist begins with a vision, selecting metals that will bring their ideas to life. Harper prefers galvanized steel due to its resistance to rust, ensuring her sculptures endure the test of time. Her process starts with meticulous planning: drawing the desired object, creating detailed diagrams, and taking precise measurements. Then comes the transformation, as Harper uses her tools to fuse the metal pieces into cohesive, intricate works of art.

Harper’s introduction to welding art came through the Hornell BOCES, where she studied under the guidance of Stacey Mrva, an accomplished instructor known for her expertise and encouragement of young talent. The welding classes at BOCES are open to high school students aged 15-18, offering a unique opportunity to explore this skill in a structured environment. Despite the Hornell BOCES being the least funded in New York State, the quality of education and mentorship Harper received has been exceptional.

“Stacey Mrva is not just a teacher; she’s a mentor who inspires us to push our boundaries.”, Harper reflects.

Like many artists, Harper is her own toughest critic. She often struggles with self-doubt and questions her abilities, but these challenges have not deterred her passion. Instead, they have fueled her determination to improve and innovate. “Balancing high school and my art is definitely a challenge,” Harper admits. “But seeing what can happen when you fuse creativity with metal is incredibly rewarding.”

Harper’s sculptures are sold under the name “Petal To The Metal” at the Alfred Farmer’s Market. Harper’s pieces are not just decorative; they are a reflection of her commitment to recycling and sustainability. “I’m very passionate about recycling. I love giving new life to materials that would otherwise be discarded,” she explains.

Harper’s journey has not been without its obstacles. As a young woman in a field traditionally dominated by men, she has faced skepticism and resistance. “It’s not always easy to weld as a girl. Sometimes boys make it hard, thinking it’s a ‘man’s art,’ but that just makes me more determined,” Harper says with a fearless smile.

Her advice to other young aspiring welders is simple yet powerful: “Jump in, don’t be afraid. The possibilities are endless, and you never know what you can create until you try.”

For Harper Wilson, welding is more than just a hobby or a job; it is a way to explore and express her creativity, to see what can happen when imagination meets metal. As she continues to hone her skills and expand her repertoire, Harper remains a shining example of the impact that passion, perseverance, and quality education can have on a young artist’s life.

In celebrating the 75th anniversary of BOCES, Harper’s story stands as a testament to the enduring value of these educational institutions. They not only provide practical skills but also foster the creative and innovative spirit that students like Harper bring to their communities. As Harper’s sculptures continue to captivate and inspire, she reminds us all that true art is born from a blend of skill, vision, and an unwavering belief in one’s potential.

Johanna Elattar is a Hornell NY based writer who loves to do stories on inspiring young people, local businesses, and community events. You can contact her anytime,

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