Whale welder gives ships’ steel new life

Anastasiia Viazenko (left) and Diane Vidallon admire Lawrie Forbes’ Toru sculpture which resides...
Anastasiia Viazenko (left) and Diane Vidallon admire Lawrie Forbes’ Toru sculpture which resides at the back entrance to Vogel Street Kitchen, in Dunedin. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Forget whale riding - Lawrie Forbes is far more interested in whale welding.

The Zeal Steel founder and managing director’s latest artwork Toru is shaped like a whale tail, and like its Maori name suggests, it is made up of recycled steel from three different shipping vessels - Te Whaka, Arataki and Kumea, which worked New Zealand’s harbours in the early 20th century.

The sculpture has been selected for the WildThings NSW Virtual Welded Art Biodiversity international online photographic exhibition, which aims to raise worldwide awareness of the need to protect the planet’s life-supporting biodiversity.

Mr Forbes’ sculpture is one of 30 exhibits from 20 artists from across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

He said recycled steel was at the core of a green economy, in which economic growth and environmental responsibility worked hand in hand.

"Once steel is produced, it becomes a permanent resource because it is 100% recyclable without loss of quality and has a potentially endless life cycle.

"During the early part of the 20th century, tohora (the southern right whale) was hunted to almost extinction along the coastal waters of New Zealand."

He said the tohora was an important part of the biodiversity of our oceans and it inspired him to create the piece, "figuratively transposing inorganic steel into the organic whale".

The sculpture still has the original draft marks from the bow of Arataki, and the riveted tail flutes are formed from a rib removed from Te Whaka which was two years older than Titanic.

Mr Forbes used MIG welding for the structural and formative welding and manual metal arc welding for the alphabetical hand-cut letters of the three vessels’ names, the Toru insignia at the front, his welded signature and the date.

"Together, with the cutting, grinding and sanding, the sculpture took about 260 hours of work to complete," he said.

Toru is sitting at the rear entrance to Dunedin’s Vogel Street Kitchen at present, but Mr Forbes hoped it would soon be moved to somewhere near Port Otago, where increasing numbers of tohora are being welcomed back.




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