Ladd Helmer of Marion has gained a reputation for making decorative items out of barbed wire. The 65-year-old farmer said he began developing his talent five years ago.
“I was looking for something to do so I could retire,” he said. “I wanted a hobby that would make a few bucks and let me retire.”
His artwork comes in a variety of shapes including cowboy hats and boots, cactus plants, sunflowers, baskets in three sizes, steer, horse, and longhorn heads, and Christmas trees as tall as 13 feet.
He makes barbed-wire wreaths in the shape of stars, crosses, four-leaf clovers, and hearts. Cemetery crosses mounted on long rods contain hooks for hanging memorial wreaths.
Samples of the items are displayed at The Big Scoop in Marion, which is owned and operated by Helmer’s wife Lucy and daughter Amy. His work also is displayed at Doyle Creek Mercantile in Florence.
Friends and neighbors keep Helmer supplied with all the barbed wire he will ever need.
Cutting and twisting barbed wire into shapes takes a toll on a man’s hands and wrists, Helmer said, so he tries not to work at his hobby for more than one hour at a time. He wears gloves but still is nicked from time to time.
The time he spends on an item plus the cost of material determines its price. He has a workshop in his home basement, which allows him to work when the weather is bad. He also has a workstation outside.
He tries to keep three of each item on hand, storing them in an unused metal grain bin. He estimated he has used eight miles of wire.
Helmer claims he is as busy as he wants to be.
“Sometimes I get more orders than I want,” he said.
He owns and operates a 250-acre no-till farm and does janitorial work for Marion Christian Church.
He said his hobby does not require a big investment, and it gives him a satisfying return in more ways than one.