Last Updated: May 16th, 2014 - 12:32:22


The Accidental Artist
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Dec 28, 2012, 16:32

photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Kirk Thore began his artistic endeavors with small works, like these winged pigs. He has since moved on to larger, more complext pieces.

When Hopewell native Kirk Thore retired from a 32 year career at Honeywell in September, he didn’t expect to do what he’s done.

“What I’ve pursued here is different that what I’d envisioned,” Thore said, standing in the garage where he now spends many of his days. “I’d envisioned I’d work on cars, maybe do a little house work for people.”

Instead, he has turned his attention to turning scraps of metal and discarded parts into works of art.

Although the garage of Thore’s house in Chester is still home to old cars, including the exact make and model he pined for in high school but was unable to get until years later, it is also home to metal fish, statues of herons and bare winter trees, flowers made from discarded bolts and washers, and pigs cobbled together from scrap materials.

While he had experimented with making a few “small, trinkety things” before retiring in September, Thore’s metal working has developed at a rapid pace since then.

“Each piece I make is a little more decorative or ornate,” he said. “Now I’m starting to challenge myself to see what I can do, so it’s different.”

Thore’s first work in his artistic renaissance is a solid, metal fish that hangs on the wall of his garage in between later, more complex works.

“It made itself, actually,” he said of the fish, which began to take shape, seemingly as it’s own accord, as Thore was hammering out a piece of metal that was cluttering up the garage.

As it took shape, he added fins, gills, eyes, a tail and a mouth. He never intended to start selling his work until a friend of his saw the fish and decided she wanted to buy three of Thore’s varied fish pieces for a house on the river she is refurbishing. When Thore saw his works outside his friend’s house, something clicked into place.

“That’s when the light started coming on, maybe I’ve got something here,” he explained.

After that, Thore displayed several of his pieces at the Historic Hopewell Foundation Auction in early November, and sold four of them. He’s even been commissioned, and is working on a metal piece for a friend’s yard.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson

Although Thore doesn’t know where the ideas for his pieces come from, he knows exactly where he learned the metal working skills he uses to create them: at Honeywell.

“They gave me an opportunity to leave the job I was in because they were restructuring, and I learn to weld,” Thore remembered. “So, I went back to school at 48-years-old, learned to be a welder and that’s how I finished my careers, as a welder. That led to this.”

More specifically, he remembers a time when a coworker fashioned a lady bug out of discarded metal while they were filling time between jobs. Inspired, Thore made something of his own. Then, that same coworker made something else.

“It started almost like a competition type thing,” he said. “If you can do that, I can do that.”

Cars have been a long term passion for Thore, but he is now complimenting the mechanical skills he learned working on them and welding at Hopewell with an increased awareness of the works of other artists.

“I’ve started going to art studios, which I’d never done,” he said.

Since metal art is a unique specialty in the area, Thore often derives his inspiration from photographs or paintings and challenges himself to transform them into a different medium. Sometimes he even builds challenges into his finished pieces, fashioning them in a way he thinks will make mechanically mind viewers wonder how he made them.

Thore is currently hard at work on an idea that came to him while looking at an unused door from a wrecked car.

“I’ve made a dog head to sit in the window of the door, and it’s going to have big, floppy ears blowing in the breeze, with his tongue, like he’s happy going down the road,” Thore explained, showing the pieces that are taking shape.

“That’s my head working, and it’s changing quite rapidly,” he said.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson

The elaborate metal and glass sculpture, with flowers and spinning fish elements, that Thore is also currently working on is bound for the “Ode to Chihuly” show at Crossroads Art Gallery in Richmond in January, an exhibit timed to celebrate the Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s special exhibit of the famous glass artists works.

“This has become my little haven out here,” Thore said of his garage, which is littered with metal working tools and decorated wall to wall with memorabilia.

When inspiration strikes, Thore said he’ll disappear into the garage in the morning and not emerge until his wife retrieves him at dinner time.

“You just turn the music on, let the rock and roll flow and see what comes out,” he said.

Anyone interested in purchasing metal work can contact Thore at hkthore@hotmail.com.

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