NORTH EAST — He builds large commercial parts used in industries all over Cecil County, but Mike Ayers was more interested recently in the thoughts of 11-year-old Katelynn Callaghan, a fan of his metal art.
Ayers, owner of Ayers Welding & Fabrication on Red Toad Road near North East, brought Callaghan to his shop last week to surprise the young lady with a work she suggested over a year ago. Now in middle school, she wrote to Ayers after passing his shop on regular road trips with her mother and seeing his metal sculptures alongside the road.
Impressed by her articulate, thought-filled letter Ayers asked Callaghan for suggestions for future pieces, which he makes by cutting parts from sheet metal with a plasma cutter and then assembling them with welding. Adding to his awe-inspiring skills, he recently learned how to use a torch to create colors instead of using traditional paint.
“It’s called flame painting,” Ayers said, adding that through experimentation he has discovered the different temperatures needed to get colors from yellow to purple to blue.
In that letter a year ago, Callaghan admired Ayers’ work. So Ayers wrote back and asked her about her favorites and what else she thought he should try to create. While she likes his animals, which include a great blue heron, penguins, cats and dragonflies, she also suggested he try an American or Maryland flag.
With the burnishing, he was able to create a large metal reproduction of a battle-torn American flag, its red, white and blue colors almost taking on a prismatic hue.
“It took eight hours in polishing it,” Ayers said.
That first flag was about the same size as a compact car and probably as heavy. Knowing that would not work in a pre-teen bedroom, he made a smaller but identical flag for Katelynn.
“That is so cool,” she said as he unveiled the smaller version for her.
It was totally unexpected, she said. When Ayers explained how he made the dramatic red and blue colors she was impressed.
“I would have caught the whole thing on fire,” she said.
Katelynn is still a letter writer, keeping in contact with friends who moved away from Cecil County. Even at her young age she understands it’s a lost art in more ways than one.
“It’s important to show appreciation; to tell people what you think,” she said, noting that she takes that beyond the written word though. “Right or wrong, it’s always good to speak up and say something.”
Jennifer Callaghan still remembers when her daughter got that letter in the mail from Ayers.
“You encouraged her. She was really surprised,” she said.
Jason Callaghan, Katelynn’s father, also appreciated the gesture.
“You never know the impact you are going to have on people,” he said of the shared letters between Ayers and Katelynn. And like his daughter, he also has an appreciation for Ayers’ roadside art gallery.
“This is a nice part of the community and it was nice to remind you of that,” he said.
“You should be really proud,” Jennifer added. “It’s a legacy you’re leaving for our county. It’s really creative. It’s nice that you put them out here for everyone to enjoy.”
The Callaghans debated among several locations of where the 36-by-21-inch replica of the much larger flag would hang at their Rising Sun home.
Meanwhile, Ayers continues to add new pieces and is working on a gallery inside the welding shop where the public can see what he’s doing and perhaps even get a flag of their own.