Sculptor creates beauty from rusting, junkyard iron

October 01, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

WEST OCEAN CITY -- He finds art in the rust, discerning lines and curves where others see only discarded gas tanks and pipes.

But his eye is true, and the results are in his driveway. A bird here, a runner there, cubist cutouts and clustered crescents beckon a visitor down the gravel road that leads to the workshop of Tuve Tuvesson.

"When you go to a junkyard, the guy says, 'What are you looking for?' I don't know until I find it," says Mr. Tuvesson, a retired metal worker turned metal sculptor.

"I started in iron work in the the 1950s -- piping, steel fabricating," he says. He worked for Sun Oil in Pennsylvania, constructing tanks and other equipment needed in the oil industry.

"Then I got into blacksmithing. . . . I'd fool around with the air hammer at lunch, after work. These were industrial blacksmiths," he explains. "It was making something that always fascinated me. It's something that not too many people can do.

"Everything I did pertained to iron. I really did like the iron work," he says of his years at Sun Oil. "You were putting things together. You put things together and they stay together.

"It's difficult for me to buy anything," he says. "I have to make it."

He built his house. He built the curving steel staircase inside it. His tools: a gas-fired forge and a compressor-driven air hammer.

And then there are the sculptures. The metal runner, all points and motion. A flock of birds on the wing, connected in metal the way they appear to connect in flight. A fantasy bird that has legs like a flamingo and a neck like a pelican.

From where does he get his inspiration? Anywhere, it seems. The runner sculpture was inspired by his son, a high school track star. Birds are all around him on his waterfront property hard by Assateague Island. The fantasy bird's body began with a discarded motorcycle gas tank, and just kind of grew from there. "The tail is a round-point shovel."

Or he just sees something he likes, such as the trio of metal crescents he found and mounted on a base. He makes regular trips to the junkyard, just to look and see what he can see that might be a sculpture or part of one. Behind his workshop, there's a collection of those objects: gas tanks, pipes, angle irons.

"One of these days, this is going to be a dinosaur head," he says, pointing to a gas tank that looks as if someone opened it with pinking shears. And those serrated edges suddenly look just like teeth.

Now 62, the descendant of seafaring Swedes says he's the only one in his family who stayed on land. "My father's father, my father were all sea captains. I was the only one who broke the chain. I didn't like the idea of being away all the time."

Instead, he was drawn to metalwork.

"You put something together, it's permanent. I always liked it," he says.

His favorite material is Corten steel, the rusty-looking metal used on bridges, overpasses and other road construction sites. The texture appeals to his aesthetic sense. And it's practical, too.

"It's a metal that rusts but never deteriorates -- unless water forms on it," he says. "It rusts that way and it stays that way."

Although he's experimented with shaping metal all his life, it wasn't until he retired that he began making big sculptures.

"This has been interesting -- it keeps me going," he says.

"You can build anything you want if you make your mind up to it. And then you hope when you put it together, it's right. Sometimes it isn't, and sometimes it is."

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