JD Bumgarner can take a bucket of junk — scrap metal, gears and other odds and ends — and turn it into art.
He has crafted a family of ducks, 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 in the Garden Walk goes to provide innovative research, equipment and programs at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Bumgarner, who has has cerebral palsy and a learning disability, struggled with reading and schoolwork, said his mother, Hope. While fine motor skills might occasionally pose a problem, the bigger challenge is processing information quickly.
Seeing her son take up welding to craft art has been a blessing, Hope Bumgarner said.
“As parents, we worried what he would do for a career,” she said. “We’re so thankful that he’s found his passion and he enjoys this.”
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JD Bumgarner first was introduced to welding during a Bucket of Junk challenge hosted by a 4-H club in 2018. Participants get no direction on what to make.
“They give you a bucket and say, ‘Make something,'” he said.
Bumgarner, who said he’s a “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” guy, found the challenge to be up his alley. He found a triangle-shaped piece of metal that reminded him of a beak. He designed a bird.
He since has tackled the challenge a few more times, later crafting a bunny, a beagle and a combine.
Bumgarner’s parents gave him welding tools and supplies for Christmas 2019 after seeing him continue to produce interesting pieces.
When schools closed early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Hope Bumgarner led learning sessions in the morning. In the afternoons, she brought everyone out to the workshop behind the family’s garage. JD Bumgarner logged time welding, and his two younger siblings helped out a bit, too.
Hope Bumgarner posted images of some of her son’s artwork on her Facebook page. Soon, people were asking to buy the pieces.
He started selling art out of his shop. The next year, he started going to art shows to get his name — and work — out there.
Most recently, Bumgarner had a booth at Junkstock.
Scrap metal used in his pieces comes from auctions, donations and garage sales.
Bumgarner spends as much time as he can in the workshop, which is now in a new location near the main street of Spencer, Iowa, where he lives with his family. He can knock out several pieces during a day in the shop if they’re versions of ones he has crafted before. He might make only one or two pieces if it’s a new design.
Bumgarner has plenty of favorites, including a turtle-shaped planter and a horse head. But lately he has taken interest in special orders. On his list now is creating a Loch Ness monster to place at a lake house.
When creating his business, Mom asked Bumgarner what his mission statement was. He knew right away: “Inspiring others while giving junk metal new life.”
Groups of individuals with special needs have visited Bumgarner’s shop, which also has a showroom, to learn about his business.
“It really is an inspirational story,” Hope Bumgarner said. “He doesn’t have your typical college degree. He didn’t go to technical school. He’s been able to take his passion for art and his knowledge of welding and put them together to do something very creative.”
While Bumgarner never participated in Munroe-Meyer programming, his story still exemplifies the work the organization does, said Luann Rabe, president of the Munroe-Meyer Guild. Featuring an artist such as Bumgarner shows that young people with special needs have unique skill sets and can add to society, Rabe said.
“It just shows what all people can do,” she said. “The mission of Munroe-Meyer Institute is to help people achieve their very top performance.”