A Certified Mad Scientist Conjures Beauty

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Several oversized lizards crawl up the walls of Myra's Gallery in Pine.

Down the hill and around the bend to Star Valley, elk bugle between the intricate branches of pine trees at the entrance to a private home.

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This is one of three personalized story telling panels that Ed Kramer designed for Kohl's Ranch Lodge. It tells the story of dances at Kohl's, that it was a stagecoach stop and that drinking was not much tolerated. The other two panels depict tales of the MGM lion and Zane Grey's cabin.

In Fountain Hills, a jaguar races for the roof.

At other sites across the West, javelina roam.

These critters are steel art that sprang from the mind and hands of Ed Kramer.

"What I do stem from things I developed in 1962 when I worked as a research technician for Hughes Aircraft," Kramer said.

Then, he was plating memory drums for computers with 1,024 bits of encryption.

He realized that as computers grew to handle more data, it would be possible to generate computer numerical control (CNC) programs that could make precision cuts in metal directly from scanned images.

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This stallion was the first steel image Ed Kramer drew and cut.

It would be 20 years before computers would catch up to Kramer's vision and he would start laser-cutting his own steel images.

When the source for lasers dried up about 10 years later, he figured out how to use optical techniques from research he did while working for Jet Propulsion Laboratories and switched to plasma using "scan direct to G-code, which is how machines work."

"All this to say I ended up the piggy man of Arizona," Kramer said.

Javelina, kokopelli and coyotes were his first best sellers.

Computerized clip art cutters are not part of Kramer's artistic process.

Ed, his wife Myra and their friend and fellow artist "Gail" draw and design images that Ed precision cuts.

Upon first look, the edge of the up to quarter-inch steel design, whatever it might be, is full of smooth curves. A closer look will reveal the thousands of single straight line cuts Kramer is able to make.

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This steel gecko has changed colors as it has aged. Below: Kramer created this coyote moon.

How Kramer's plasma cutter works

Free ions are generated by blowing a gas, such as oxygen, through an electrical discharge.

The steel plate must be grounded to complete the circuit.

The discharge blows the molecules apart and produces a 20,000-degree pencil-point-like flame.

"It makes plasma drawing like cutting with a pencil. It's the easiest stuff I've ever done," Kramer said.

His designs have grown larger and more complex.

Laser cutters could handle a mere 1,500 bytes of information, some of Kramer's current designs start at 250,000 bytes of information.

Cutting is "play work" that satisfies Kramer's creative needs.

He wears UV-blocking sunglasses to protect himself from the dangerous part of his art -- sunburn.

"It is fun and I get paid well," he said.

His other inventions include:

  • A process for gold-plating orchids and beetles that allowed fine detail, like the veins in the flower and the hairs on the bug's antennae to remain detailed.
  • He invented one of the ways early computer chips talked to circuit boards.

"I am a certified mad scientist," he said.

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