“The more unique it is, the more difficult it is to duplicate.”
Story by Michelle Farnsworth
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s METAL MAN. Although this super hero of metal magic does not wear a cape, he does don a little cotton cap and welders helmet from time to time when creating his one-of-a-kind works of metal art.
Chris Thomas has been welding and cutting metal for about twenty years. Starting when he was about 15-years-old on his family farm, Thomas would gather metal scraps and discarded farm equipment parts to create new from old. Upcycling before it was a trend.
“I started cutting apart stuff we didn’t use and made something useful,” said Thomas.
Throughout his adult life he has continued his hunt for metal scraps and used them to create unusual works of art and utilitarian pieces such as tables, chairs and mirrors. But these are not your mother’s furniture pieces. These heavy duty pieces of steel are buffed and shined with designs and cut-outs, bolts and machinery parts.
“I didn’t really like everything that anyone else had, so I thought I’d make it myself,” said Thomas.
Thomas does not have any art background experience, but what he lacks in formal training, he gained helping out on his father’s farm.
“I was out there all the time with him,” said Thomas. Although the some what shy Thomas does not consider himself a “farm boy” he laughs and would consider himself a “hybrid” of sorts.
Taking a break from his art for various reasons, has given him the opportunity to take things at his pace and build up a network of friends and clients who appreciate his artwork so much they are willing to host parties and get the word out about his talent. Encouraged by friends Kristin Wilson and Lynae Hansen to resurrect his artwork and showcase it for more to see.
“I owe them a lot. When I’m like, eh…They’ve asked for stuff and pushed me to make more.”
A winter show at Wilson’s home brought 30 to 40 people out on a blistery night to view, touch and purchase his work. (Including the author who immediately snatched up a salvage metal mirror.) A goal of Thomas’ is to have his work displayed in galleries and shops throughout the area.
“In a perfect world, I’d do this for a living,” Thomas said. “I enjoy doing it and now other people are getting interested in it.”
Since liability is an issue, Thomas can no longer find scrap or unusual pieces at junkyards. Now he must purchase or scout out pieces from the family farm to fuel his art. A second hand store can also offer components that the average person would leave laying on the shelf to collect dust. Not Thomas. For instance, when finding old mixer parts, he knew that would be perfect to create a halo affect around a mirror.
An old, rusted-out bolt is garbage to many, but to Thomas it’s perfect to make into a ladybug’s eye. A giant, rusted-out wheel well? Legs and a glass top make it a gorgeous and unique table.
Thomas uses techniques that are simple and effective to create rust where there is none; spray with water and throw some table salt on it and let it sit: Rust.
Favorite pieces that Thomas likes to make are dining room tables, mirrors and candleholders. Lawn and garden art are also very popular, and he plans on making lake cabin signs as well. Thomas takes special orders and can make anything your imagination can dream.
The Thomas metal mantra: “The more unique it is, the more difficult it is to duplicate,” said Thomas.
To view examples of his metal artwork, go to BDAC and Urban Girl in downtown Bismarck. Also soon to be on Facebook, “Thomas Ironworks.”