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Irons in the fire: Local man shares his passion by designing functional, artistic pieces

Iron artist David Beach, owner of Fox Chapel Iron Works, bends iron with a torch at his shop at 2512 Union Ave., Altoona, on Thursday evening. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Master Iron Artist David Beach combined his late father’s engineering and welding skills with his artisan mother’s creative spirit to create Fox Chapel Iron Works five years ago.

Located at 2512 Union Ave., in a former Firestone auto repair shop, Fox Chapel is part metal work business, part art gallery and part school.

At Fox Chapel Iron Works, Beach’s designs range from functional industrial — such as iron railings and custom, fireplace doors for the nearby Graystone Grand Palazzo — to the recently installed metal sculpture in Tuckahoe Park in support of Families United for Change.

That work features a hollow metal man formed out of interconnected figures of boys and girls connected by falling hearts — Beach was inspired by talking to MaryAnn Sinisi, who spearheaded the project to support families like hers who have lost a loved one to addiction, to offer hope to those who struggle with Substance Use Disorder.

“I listened to MaryAnn and her story of losing her son … she wears her heart on her sleeve. I felt her pain and let it sink in. I cried several times making that piece,” he said, his voice breaking in the re-telling. In recovery for 12 years, he understands how alcoholism and drug use breaks hearts and relationships.

Beach’s community involvement and unique craftsmanship prompted Angie Yasulitis, managing partner and lead strategist at the YaZo Group, to buy a wind chime for her nephew rather than buy online. “I believe in supporting local businesses and he is right in our community and is making a difference in our community.”

On the functional end of the spectrum, he’s designed mailbox posts, a custom grille for a Dodge Ram truck, hydraulic parts and truck hitches.

Several of Beach’s more artistic and large-scale pieces will be featured during a two-man metalworking art show at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Altoona in October.

“Dave is intensively creative, super-talented and very humble,” said Bonnie Yingling, one of his craftsman welding students.

He’s come a long way from the first artistic piece he made at age 7 for his favorite aunt who lives in Seattle, Washington — a pair of candlesticks.

“She still uses them today,” Beach said. “They are hideous and are more of a heavy funk-style. They are so heavy that if they fall over, they’ll put a dent in a wooden table that you’ll never get out. They were my first artistic design and I did them on my dad’s lathe.”

His late father, Rex Beach, operated a big commercial and heavy industrial welding shop in Roaring Spring where he fashioned custom — and complicated — hydraulic systems for “gargantuan machinery,” he said. “He was a self-taught machinist and welder and specialized in heavy equipment.”

The elder Beach also made shepherd’s hooks, wall lamps and items by re­­quest — including a potter’s wheel for his wife, Priscilla.

“My mother was doing pottery and her paints and did fabric crafts. So I grew up with her doing art and he was doing the heavy welding … together they kind of made me,” he said. For a while, he worked in leadership positions at various large businesses and would change out of the suit and tie he wore at New Enterprise Stone & Lime and go get dirty working in his dad’s shop in the evenings.

After leaving New Enterprise in 2006, he worked at Signature Door Co. and designed ornate grills for large, custom doors for high-end luxury homes in Florida and California, then moved on to work in management at ORX, Blair Signs and Curry Supply in Curryville, where he served two years as director of engineering and operations “using everything my father taught me,” he said.

He opened Fox Chapel Iron Works in 2015 after he “decided corporate life wasn’t for me.”

Among the Beach pieces featured in SAMA’s “Steel Yourself” exhibit in October is “The ‘Burgh Through My Eyes,” a 6-foot wide, 4-foot tall ornamental metal skyline of Pittsburgh, featuring iconic buildings of the Steel City. The three-dimensional piece hangs about 4 inches from the wall and is all hand cut and painted.

“It’s like most of my wall art in that the play of light over it casts shadows and adds to the experience of the piece,” he said.

Also displayed will be his “very imposing” 300-pound, 7- to 8-foot high throne, which took 90 hours to complete. “When people come into my shop, they just gravitate to it. The design is very whimsical and Gothic,” he said.

He is also passionate about passing along his knowledge.

He has helped welders at businesses enhance their skills, Boy Scouts obtain metal-working badges, and people interested in learning to weld without obtaining a certification like they would from the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center. In response to those requests, he began offering craftsman welding classes. So far, he’s taught 240 students, with 24 students granted scholarships.

“I want to teach students so they get to experience the side of me that my father gave to me. Many students have never welded before. Teaching is so different from running a business. I teach them how to do it, but each student brings their own creativity to it.”

Yingling is among the 30 percent of Beach’s students who are welders. She has taken about six classes and has progressively improved her skills.

“He just loves to share what he knows with others and he’s extremely patient. He’s an all-around nice guy,” she said. “I was looking for a new hobby and wanted to do something creative. Dave made it fun and showed me how it could be an art form. I find it so satisfying.”

The Beach file

Name: David Beach

Age: 54

Town: Altoona

Family: Mother, Priscilla Beach; sons: Spencer, 23, and Carson, 21; sisters: Annette and Lynette, all of Duncansville.

Employment: Owner, Fox Chapel Iron Works; previously worked in management at New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc.,

Blair Signs, ORX and Curry Supply

Education: Graduated Central High School; Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, 1988, and MBA in 1990, both from West Virginia University.

Community Service: Donation of time and talents for various community, church and charity projects.

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