Artist Ann Gildner welds metals into sculpture

Courtesy Photo Long-time artist Ann Gildner, who does ornamental welding out of Iron One Studio in Onaway, shows off her work-in-progress. The sculpture, now completed, celebrates Alpena’s fishing industry.

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a six-part series on Alpena’s History of Industry Sculptures being created by a mix of local and regional artists. Today’s feature focuses on Ann Gildner and her sculpture titled, Go Fish.


Whether they recognize her name or not, people in Alpena already know the work of Ann Gildner.

Her stunning Departure of the Great Blue Herons sculpture often catches the attention of anyone passing by the Thunder Bay River near the Alpena Duck Park. Now the community can look forward to a second public sculpture by this talented artist who agreed to participate in the Thunder Bay Arts Council’s latest efforts to bring more art installations to the scenic Alpena Bi-Path.

Gildner’s new piece, which she’s calling Go Fish, represents the importance of the fishing industry in Alpena. It’s one of a series of six sculptures by local and regional artists created around a theme of Alpena’s History of Industry.

A practicing artist for the last 35 years, it’s only been in the last 11 years that Gildner has been involved in ornamental welding. Ever since she took a welding class offered through Alpena Community College and led by Tom Moran of Moran Ironworks, she’s been hooked.

“Once I hit that first spark, I loved it,” Gildner said. “There’s just something about it. You either love it right off the bat or are scared to get burned. I love the whole process of it.”

Though she’s long maintained an art gallery in her hometown of Cheboygan, she now works out of Iron One Studio in Onaway, located in the same building as Moran’s Industrial Arts Institute. She’s fully embraced the medium of ornamental welding.

“I was a painter and a potter, but I want my work to be outside,” Gildner said. “Really metal is about the only thing you can have that will withstand the elements, so that’s how I went towards this direction.”

She credits Moran with helping her technically and creatively. For her Departure of the Great Blue Herons piece, Gildner said he told her she had achieved a good shape but that she could do better by adding detailed feathers.

“Once I did the feathers, it looked so much better,” she said. “He can see metal a lot better than I can. He’s been in the metals a lot longer than I have, so he’ll walk around through here and throw comments at me.”

For Go Fish, Gildner chose to use a mix of different metals: steel, copper, brass and stainless steel. Her new piece also involved researching the various fish native to Northeast Michigan waters since she had little previous knowledge of the subject matter.

“I always thought a fish was a fish,” Gildner said, although she admits to eventually changing her tune. “I never realized all the fish have their own shape and all the different sizes of fins on them. It’s quite interesting. I was amazed. I don’t really see things until I have to really look at them.”

Gildner knew she was on the right track when she asked her husband to have a friend of his – an avid fisherman – take a look at the various fish she’d crafted from metal.

“He’s a real big fisherman, so I figured if he names them right off the bat, then I’m doing it right,” she said. “He did, so I was able to capture the shape and the fins.”

Her 3×4-foot finished sculpture features metal life-size brown trout, blue gill and perch, plus a crappie on the bottom part of the sculpture. The perch are swimming in a school, while the trout are jumping to catching some flies. She also included reeds which she said help to convey that the fish can be near the shore in the waters of either a local stream or lake.

Gildner estimates she put in about 200 hours making Go Fish, in addition to receiving some help with grinding and other aspects from her assistant, Mary Zinke.

While she doesn’t reside in Alpena, Gildner remains impressed with the commitment to the arts she sees in the city.

“I am really impressed with Alpena’s art community and how they are embracing these sculptures,” Gildner said. “It’s really important. Art touches everybody – that’s why I love doing it.”

Jodene Compton, a member of the TBAC sculpture committee that has been spearheading Alpena’s History of Industry Sculpture series, agrees with the impact sculptures can have on a place and on people.

“How wonderful to think that for decades to come, residents and visitors will walk, bicycle and run on the Alpena sculptured Bi-Path and perhaps enjoy the fascinating art which represents various industries that have made our community great,” Compton said.

She added that like so many others in the Alpena area who have worked tirelessly to support the arts, TBAC members take delight in seeing the History of Industry Sculpture series come to fruition.

Five of the six sculptures will be exhibited permanently on locally quarried limestone boulders artfully arranged along the Bi-Path near Van Lare Hall on the campus of Alpena Community College. ACC is another major supporter of the project.

The sixth sculpture will be seen on a boulder in Washington Park, also along the Bi-Path.