One Quincy woman has finally found the time to pursue her passion — creating hanging lamps, luminary lanterns and other welded art from used, metal containers.
“I want to get paid to be me,” Presley Sundberg said about pursuing things she’s passionate about. For the last 15 years she’s either been working to attain that goal or enjoying its reality.
It’s a Monday afternoon and Sundberg eagerly picks up a small welding torch, adjusts her dark glasses and goes to work on a metal container that probably once held canned vegetables or fruit.
As she aims the gold and white flame to the metal, a hole is burned into a shape. Moving the torch slightly another appears and then another. Within moments she’s created a pattern down the length of the can. In this case, it resembles a tree with its top at the upper edge of the can and its branches spreading out as Sundberg works her way downward.
“This is like my Zen, my mediation,” Sundberg said about her work. It’s something she can spend a few stolen minutes doing, or lose herself in for hours.
But it’s more than that — it’s become a business. Calling it Manifest Station Studio, Sundberg concentrates her sales online. Beginning in 2014 she realized enough sales of her specialty lamps and lanterns to encourage her to continue. Last year she made $30,000, she said. She said 2018 is promising to be even bigger.
Sundberg didn’t just land in Quincy and decide to start an online business. She’s originally from Mississippi and South Carolina. She spent some time in Orange County and then learned of Feather River College’s horse management program. That was 21 years ago.
While attending FRC, Sundberg expanded her interests beyond the original program that snagged her attention. In 2003 she took welding. At the time she didn’t know it would become a skill that would lead her into business, but she enjoyed learning.
And then she was inspired by a single can she discovered in a gift shop. As she examined the piece she immediately knew that someone created its unique designs by cutting them with a welding torch.
Sundberg knew welding, but she thought it would take more skills to do something like the can she first saw. Then one day she was talking to someone at work and the man said his sister-in-law knew how to do the kind of welding she was interested in. That’s when Sundberg met Doris Livingston and learned to cut metal in a barn in Dixie Canyon. Livingston has since passed, but she will always hold a special place with Sundberg.
“It is like the whole world disappears,” Sundberg said about working with metal. She gets involved and notices little else around her.
Initially, Sundberg said that creating shapes on metal cans was just a hobby. She was busy working and raising her daughter. But with time, she got married, her daughter, of course, got older and didn’t need such close supervision.
By 2014 she was ready to launch her own internet business.
The business however has taken more than just creating lamps and putting photos of them online. “It’s not about ‘here’s this and this,’” she explained about setting up a site and featuring her work. Once again she relied on classes she took at FRC.
Taking business classes through the college, Sundberg said that your homework is your business. That’s when you learn to set up a business plan, name the business and learn marketing strategies. That knowledge is helping her in developing a solid foundation for her business.
It’s now considered old school, but Sundberg uses oxygen acetylene welding. “A lot of people are using plasma cutters now,” she explained.
What Sundberg likes about her method is that she can cut or weld. On that original creation she discovered in the gift shop, she immediately recognized how the artist had made the piece through welding much like she does now.
Inside Sundberg’s workshop — actually her tiny, enclosed back porch — she has everything she needs. At one end is her worktable, at the other are carefully arranged cans.
Today, she selects a small 15- ounce can and begins to create a design. In the corner to her left is a larger shade where she’s used a popcorn can.
There are really just three steps to the process, Sundberg explained. Once the can is prepared — cleaned and the label removed — she creates the design freehand with her torch and then she will add a finish to preserve the work.
Finally she turns the piece into a working lamp. She’s learned a lot about wiring and rewiring lamps and can create single hanging pieces or combine them into hanging clusters.
Sundberg said that she sold numerous lamps to a restaurant in New York. Then they wanted much larger ones. Thinking about the possibilities, she said she finally decided on galvanized washtubs. The specifications called for something two-feet-wide and 18 inches tall. For another style they required she used metal trashcans. “You’d never know it was a trashcan,” she said when she was finally finished with them.
Sundberg is excited about the direction her online business has taken. She now offers retail and wholesale prices. Her work is not only sold to individuals, but it’s found in boutiques.
The most exciting fact is that her luminary lanterns and hanging lamps are found on five continents. She said she just has to add Africa and Antarctica and she’s covered the world.
For more examples of Sundberg’s art go to ManifestStationStudio.com.