Engraving the path to success
By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor
Big Sky – If you have been out and about in Big Sky, it’s likely you’ve seen the imprint of Jack Welty. His one-man company Jack Creek Engraving is responsible for projects large and small throughout the community such as Beehive Basin Brewery’s rough-hewn tap handles, trail signage at Spanish Peaks and the menu boards at Moonlight Tavern as well as the club’s golf course signs.
Welty has also made high-profile custom trophies for a variety of Big Sky tournaments and events, including the etched antler awards for The Rut Mountain Runs, and custom-branded water bottles and travel mugs for local businesses like Big Sky Landscaping and Hussey Plumbing.
All this, and Welty only seriously began developing his custom engraving business in November 2016.
As illustrated by the eclectic spectrum of his work, Welty is firmly planted in the practical but can’t conceal the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit that has propelled his career path thus far.
“I guess it depends what you consider art,” Welty said when asked if he considers himself an artisan. “I haven’t had anyone come to me and say ‘build me a sculpture out of metal.’ But most of the time, clients don’t know what they want so I get to be creative in that way. I like learning new things and making things that are unique and not like anything else. So tell me, is that art?”
Welty’s creative expression and craftsman-level skills shine in a particularly sculptural piece he made for Big Sky Build owner John Seelye. The impressive interior sign features the company’s name and mountain-saw-blade logo in an artful, backlit composition of brushed and patinaed steel and reclaimed lumber.
Jack Creek Engraving was born out of a concurrently successful business Welty started in 2013 manufacturing athletic equipment. Mil-Spec Fitness Gear’s top-selling product is a military-grade jump rope. Assembled in Big Sky, they can be found on U.S. Army and Air Force bases all over the world. In 2015, frustrated by his inability to fulfill a lucrative order for customized purple jump ropes for the Baltimore Ravens, Welty broke down and invested in a laser engraver.
He soon realized he could engrave much more than jump ropes—and make a better return on his $17,000 investment in the machine. While the laser allowed him to do highly precise inscriptions on wood, glass and leather, he felt impeded by the inability to work on a larger scale with materials like steel. His next move was to purchase a plasma table, which allows him to cut through electrically conductive metals with an accelerated jet of hot plasma.
In his garage workshop at the Yellowstone Club property he caretakes, the brawny 40-year-old has recently completed hefty steel signage that will hang on the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill’s new outdoor bar area, and a prototype of a cornerstone inlay for Centre Sky Architecture that will be used as a “tattoo” of sorts for their houses.
Even during a previous career in law enforcement—Welty spent five years in uniform, followed by another five as a detective assigned to the gritty underbelly of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—he owned and operated an archery business as a “side hobby.” Welty sold archery gear, provided bow maintenance and crafted handmade, custom arrows to satisfy a lifelong enjoyment of working with his hands that he traces to Boy Scouts and further cultivated during many years working alongside his uncle in construction.
His passion for police work is palpable as he reminisces about the days working informants, SWAT team raids, investigating homicides, and being involved in undercover operations that cracked open far-reaching human trafficking and credit card fraud rings.
Although family circumstances compelled Welty to leave his life fighting crime behind and relocate to Billings in 2013, he did so stoically, opting not to return to police work because it would not have been a lateral move.
“I don’t have a big ego,” Welty said. “But with the amount of experience I have [in law enforcement, coming in as an entry level cop] would’ve been really hard.” And likely not as exciting as what he was used to.
In 2015, Welty moved to Big Sky, where he had been visiting childhood friend and Gallatin Riverhouse Grill owner Kyle Wisniewski since 2008. While moonlighting as a security guard at Moonlight Basin, word got out about Welty’s skills and earned him a series of engraving commissions.
“I see opportunity,” said Welty, whose goal to construct all the large-scale custom signage for area builders and clubs is already coming into view. “There’s no one up here doing what I’m doing. And Big Sky’s a growing place.”
Visit jackcreekengraving.com to see more of Welty’s custom creations.