For 80 years, the big building in Union has borne the name B.M. Clark Co., Inc. and taken up a substantial bit of Route 17 frontage. Two years ago, artist, designer and educator Ernest Neri moved to Warren. He noticed the big building and wondered what went on inside it. He had a suspicion, and one day he stopped in.

“I needed someone with the kind of equipment and know-how I didn’t have,” said Neri, who had an idea for a sculpture bigger and using heavier metal than he could handle at his home studio.

Once inside, Neri was amazed at what he saw.

“Look at this place, it’s huge! Look at all this machinery; a lot of it dates back to the grandfather’s time,” he said on a recent visit to the metal-working facility.

The grandfather in question was Bryan Melvin Clark, whose granddaughter Deborah Clark Kemp and her husband, Don Kemp, currently run the business that has been operating continuously since 1924. Deborah said it began at Hills Mills, where her grandfather made barrels for the eel fishery, then moved to South Union and finally to the current location, which had been a transportation company involved with shipping eels and other commodities.

B.M. Clark Co. is still involved in the transportation business as it manufactures the tanks and trailers used to transport bulk feed, seed, pulp and other agricultural products, as well as a pneumatic pickup system for product retrieval, roll-off Dumpsters and other heavy equipment. And what Neri had in mind was heavy duty indeed.

Neri has been making sculpture since earning his bachelor of science degree in art in the 1970s. During those days, he taught art and also made large aluminum castings for sculpture. During the 1980s, he had an art store in Bethel, Conn., where he made and sold copper and steel garden sculptures. His most recent works, executed while living in Guilford, Conn., were copper wind sculptures. When he and his wife sold that house, the new homeowner acquired its on-site sculptures, as well.

One of the sculptures Neri left behind was a smaller version of the one he approached the Kemps about. Its next incarnation, he decided, would be made of heavy steel, the kind it takes serious machinery to cut and roll and shape; cranes to lift; and industrial welding to assemble.

“With the platform plates, it will weigh about a thousand pounds,” said Neri, inspecting the work in progress in one of the several B.M. Clark bays.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Deborah and Don in unison, but the results thus far seem to please both artist and metal workers. Beginning with squared tubes of 5/16-inch steel and steel sheeting, the B.M. Clark crew of metal workers have cut and bent and welded Neri’s vision into being. On this day, the piece was being prepped for its eventual coating of black paint. Creative problem-solving is part of this crew’s standard procedure and the work has been well within its skill set, although the in-house equipment will need to be supplemented to produce the fine finish required for the sculpture’s surface.

Neri said the Kemps have set aside a corner for him to work in, a corner that had to be moved recently to accommodate a feed body and trailer manufactured here in 1992 and back for refurbishing. In another part of the rambling facility, a worker welded the final touches on a roll-off Dumpster that will be painted in a dedicated painting bay that has a waterfall system to catch overspray. Sitting on its own in the middle of the floor is a prototype for the Clark rock bucket, while back at the office, a pamphlet from the 1960s touts a heavy duty type of snowplow blade the business is expecting to manufacture again. A full machine shop in another corner is used by the company’s standby machinist.

“We’re really gearing up. We have three, almost full-time welders and are looking for a fourth,” said Don.

One of the B.M. Clark part-time welders is Donnie Kennedy, who does tractor service and repair via his business The Mobile Toolbox. All on hand seem bemused by the gleaming fine art project in the midst of their well-greased environs.

Neri, who worked in adult education for years and ran a traumatic brain injury program in Connecticut, is likewise comfortable in the cavernous facility, so much so that he plans to work on a wind sculpture there next. He said he enjoys just looking around and seeing the history embodied by the building, machinery and tools. Neri ran a tool store a few years back when he and his wife were living on the Western Caribbean island of Roatan, so he comes by his interest naturally. As an artist, his experience creating the sculpture here has been enjoyable.

“The information and capabilities of B.M. Clark may provide other sculptors a place to have work done, when heavy steel is needed and cranes are necessary to move pieces around,” he said.

Neri’s sculpture is called “Presence” and it lives up to its name, even without the paint job. Where it will go when it is finished is unknown, although there is talk about having it right out front by the new B.M. Clark sign on Route 17 for a while.

“It’s for sale. I’d love to see it on the new Warren town green, but who knows,” said Neri.

For more information about the metal working business, visit bmclarkco.com.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.