Nature-inspired metal artist garners acclaim from unusual fanbase

art frA fiery inferno blasts through the sheet metal like a hot knife through butter. The screeching sound of a grinder echoes down into the valley surrounding Waynesville. Flipping up her face shield, metal sculptor Grace Cathey wipes her brow, smiles momentarily then shuts the mask back down. She’s in the midst of her creation and all focus is on the task at hand.

“I’ve been an artist in this area for over 32 years and I’ve had so much support from the community. It’s overwhelming and I feel so blessed,” she said. “I chose this community because I knew this would be a great place to live, and it has been.”


Standing next to her at Cathey’s workshop, Kevin Cullen is one of those supporters.

“When I saw Grace’s work for the first time, I was in awe,” he said. “I’ve welded before, but when you get a chance to see such beautiful creations like hers up close, it’s incredible.”

Cullen is the eccentric host of “The Motorhead Traveler,” a reality show on MavTV (Movies, Adventure, Variety). A feverish globetrotter in search of motorsport adventures, unique artisans and outdoor endeavors, he’s snowmobiled Siberia and Greenland, driven racecars on various international courses, hit the desert in a sand-buggy and jet-skied waters around the world. His energy is infectious, his ambition unrelenting.

SEE ALSO: Grace Cathey’s metal flowers to join the ranks of Waynesville public art pieces

“I’m one of the people who believes that what you want to do when you’re off work is what you should do for work,” he said.

Sitting on Cathey’s porch, Cullen is taking a break from the day’s project. Filming the latest episode of “The Motorhead Traveler,” Cullen decided on exploring North Carolina. When he contacted the state tourism office, they suggested something NASCAR related, which resulted in a trip to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte and a chance to drive Jeff Gordon’s racecar.

The office also suggested something Southern Appalachian related, perhaps a trip to the mountains in search of an artist to profile. Sifting through possible candidates, he picked Cathey.

“He called me and asked if I wanted to do a project together, so I started thinking about things that symbolize this area,” she said. “I wanted something to incorporate the winding roads and motorcycles, the plant and mountain life of the Great Smokies.”

The duo decided to make a handcrafted metal mirror. Adorned with S-curve road lines and majestic trees, the piece is a 34-inch square, some three inches in depth. Besides the hours planning and putting together a design, Cathey and Cullen spent a whole day cutting, welding and grinding all the intricate pieces together into a functional work of art.

“Experientially speaking, when you come into a community and learn from a local artist, who has spent years developing their craft and style, it’s a humbling experience that can be also intimidating,” he said. “But, the feeling you get working on and completing an art piece is very similar to the excitement you get when driving a racecar — it’s exhilarating.”

Based out of Toronto, Cullen has been a television personality for over 15 years. Creatively unfulfilled as a marketing executive in the electronics industry, he ditched the suit and tie to pursue a dream incorporating his travel bug with a lifelong fascination for motorsports. In 1997, he launched “Personal Watercraft Television” on the Outdoor Channel, which lasted 130 episodes viewed in over 140 countries. From there, he created “Sled Sense,” where he jumped on a snowmobile and hit some of the most remote areas on the planet. 

His latest endeavor, “The Motorhead Traveler” combines the mechanical culture of a community with its artistic and culinary flavors. Cullen not only wanted to learn as much as he can about anything unknown he crossed paths with, he also felt the urge to get his hands dirty in the process, where experiences are up close and every bit as unique and real as the subjects themselves.

“It’s a real bonding experience when you’re doing this much work with somebody and getting dirty together,” he said. “It’s about ongoing learning. Always keep learning, always keep exploring.”

As Cathey gazed off her front porch and down into the lush valley, she took a deep breath and smiled. Though there’s still a full afternoon of work left to do on the project, it’s another day in paradise and she’s glad to spend it creating, surrounded by the natural beauty of Southern Appalachia.

“There’s a feeling you get when you come here, it’s in the air, the mountains, the water,” she said. “With the presence, energies and vibrations, you could feel it even if you were blind. The vision here is so rewarding — it brings out your soul.”

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