Rustic Rehab

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Rebecca Schnakenberg can unite graphic design with welding by creating designs on software, such as Adobe Illustrator, and transferring them to a cutting program. (Sarah Reed/Missouri Farms)

Rebecca Schnackenberg traced letters onto a rusted piece of corrugated roofing. At her shop, roughly a mile outside of Concordia, she stepped back from her cutting table and double checked her tracing before firing up an acetylene torch.

When one thinks of welding, the next thought doesn't typically jump to technology or art. But it's in the backyard of her family's rural Missouri home where Schnackenberg has joined graphic design with physical labor.

Her interest in welding first began when she was an undergraduate at Concordia University-Nebraska. As a graphic design student, she took a three-day sculpture class.

The dog sculpture is one of Rebecca Schnackenberg's most recent metal-work creations -- and one of her favorite to date. (Photo courtesy of

"One of the segments was on welding and plasma cutting," she explained. "(Our instructor) showed us how to use the welder and the plasma cutter, and after that I was hooked on welding."

Fast forward 10 years, and the design student is now making custom art pieces from reclaimed metal. She sells mostly through her website -- -- and by word of mouth, but she also loads selected work into the back of a pickup and travels to shows in various cities. In July, Schnackenberg will trek to South Dakota for the Brookings Summer Art Festival, which is said to attract approximately 75,000 visitors.

At the cutting table, Schnackenberg grabbed each cut letter and stacked them into a pile. She prefers the rusted look in each of her pieces, as opposed to paint, she said, and lets them weather. A cat named Homer scouted the yard while she worked. Being outdoors is one of her favorite aspects of the trade -- that and the creative freedom.

Rebecca Schnackenberg traces letters onto corrugated roofing. She'll store them for later use in a rustic sign. It also allows customers to mix and match letters of their own. (Sarah Reed/Missouri Farms)

"It's so instantaneous," she said.

Seeing that instant result is due, in part, to her materials. Schnackenberg works with scrap from area farms and is always looking for more for her collection. In a nearby barn, pieces are separated by type -- metal stakes stacked in one corner, various machinery gears in another. Even rusted cheese graters make up the collection of items she uses for the rustic art.

"The rustic style is really popular," she said. "Part of it has to do with living in the country. I just really enjoy it."

Rebecca Schnackenberg cuts out the letters she previously traced onto scrap roofing. She inadvertantly inherited the welding trade -- her great-grandfather Ole was a blacksmith, as was his son, Chris, after his military service. (Sarah Reed/Missouri Farms)