John Toras, a Marshall County artist who specializes in metal sculpture, will soon have his works on exhibit at Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee.
Representatives of the park that seeks to provide intellectual inspiration will be at Toras’ workshop in Fairdealing later this week to select works to exhibit for three months beginning in July.
Toras said the connection with Discovery Park of America was made through a friend who works at Kentucky Publishing Inc. in Paducah.
“One of the (employees) there was having problems with their chimney,” he said. “It caught on fire and they wanted to clean it out. So (my friend) called me and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll help clean it out.’
“We cleaned it out, and (the owner) said, ‘You know, I know somebody over at Discovery Park.’ They called the park and they called me. That’s how that ball started rolling. You clean a chimney out, you never know what will happen.”
Toras said he likes Discovery Park because it provides young people with interesting ideas to stimulate their imagination.
Toras, 70, works primarily in stainless steel, often using materials he finds in scrapyards.
“You buy this stuff new, and it’s five times as much as I buy it from the scrapyards,” he said. “And I grind and polish just about everything anyway, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like.”
The grounds surrounding his workshop feature several of his works, some more than 20 years old that he said look better than when he first made them.
“If you keep them in the sun, they just pop,” he said. “They keep getting brighter all the time. … The sun does that; it burns out all the impurities of it because it heats up so much.”
Many of his creations are kinetic, moving with the wind and providing different aspects of the artwork.
Several of his works have been on display in the area, including a totem pole.
“I call it ‘Harmony’ because it’s a collection of everything that makes us,” he said.
That work was on display in downtown Paducah for four years. Toras has also displayed his art in several area shows.
One work is a 1,065-pound rocking horse that is big enough for grownups to ride.
“That’s a lot of work — I took six months to build that,” he said. “That’s a half a ton of stainless.”
Several of his works have been on display at Anything Goes Collectibles in Boaz in northern Graves County and will be seen at the 505 Coffee Shop after it opens in Paducah. They can also be seen on Facebook at “Stainless Art by Toras.”
Toras has been sculpting for 45 years, sometimes working in carbons or woods, but he enjoys working with stainless steel.
“Maybe I’m a fish,” he joked. “I like shiny things.”
Toras began sculpting when he was in the Air Force and was sent to welding school.
“I was making things in the welding school, and I said, ‘Yeah, I kinda like that stuff,’ ” he said. “One thing led to another. Then, I was working for Proctor & Gamble with a sheet metal (worker) and I made this little iron motorcycle, and I showed it to him.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you make it out of stainless?’ I said, ‘Why? This looks all right,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but it’s going to get goofy later on. If you make it out of stainless, it’ll look the same forever.’ ”
Toras worked at Proctor & Gamble as a welder in Chicago and a machine adjuster in Cincinnati for 25 years before retiring to Marshall County in 2006.
“I love it here,” he said. “This is heaven, man.”
Since retiring, Toras has appreciated his artwork for keeping him occupied: the time put into conceptualizing and working on it and the satisfaction of the results.
“I have fun. If you can’t have fun, it ain’t worth doing,” he said. “I’m just blessed that I’ve got something to do.”