Metallic bonding

Tom Shearer

Tom Shearer feeds on fresh ideas behind a school of sculpted metal trout.

Tom Shearer feeds on fresh ideas behind a school of sculpted metal trout.

Photo By David Robert

After attaining two engineering degrees, mechanical and electrical, and another one in business, what’s a guy to do? If the guy’s Tom Shearer, he creates art. For the past seven years, he’s been doing art full time, although he’s been forging metal for 30 years. His father taught him how to weld when he was 10.

With wire rimmed glasses over dark blue eyes, Levi’s, a polo shirt and sensible shoes, he exudes an engineer’s vibe. His work does, too, evolving from an equal mix of science and art.

For the first few years, he worked 12 hours a day in his studio. Then he was diagnosed with leukemia. It took Shearer two years to fight it, and he’s still rebounding. Meanwhile, he jots down hundreds of ideas in notebooks and chalk drawings on his studio floor.

“I don’t take anything for granted anymore,” he says, sitting in his living room that’s slowly becoming a gallery. Copper pieces with patterns swirled in heat from his torch change colors with lighting conditions. “Stanley #8,” with washers for eye glasses and metal twisted into a Jay Leno-like profile, rests upon a scrap-metal base. The original “Stanley” was a self portrait that led to 22 variations.

“Metal’s not cold,” Shearer says. “It’s got character.”

A cyprus tree forged from steel and dyed to copper tones has an Eastern appeal. HGTV spent six hours filming him creating the piece, which will be featured on That’s Clever next spring.

In his studio, half a school of steel trout dangles from the ceiling while the other half rests on a nearby table. The fish are part of a 5 by 8 wall piece. He’ll flame-paint pinks and reds onto the fish by concentrating heat with a torch until he gets the desired colors. A huge plasma cutter that Shearer built himself sheared the piece. He put his concept drawing into a CAD program that sent the image to the studio for cutting.

Other pieces transpire from discarded metal scraps. “I believe in recycling everything,” Shearer says, stepping on a recycled concrete walkway.

Kinetic metal art spins, turns and hums with a slight summer breeze in the backyard. An oxidized and fat, scrap-metal Garfield-like cat guards the patio. The body of a metal maiden, with a shapely oxidized physique, waits patiently for a head. Old bicycle wheels, with petals welded around, began blooming in his yard after Shearer watched an old bike wheel spinning in the wind.

Shearer and his wife enjoy riding their cruiser bikes downtown. They don’t like tying their bikes to light poles and street signs. In June, the city of Reno put out a call for local artists to construct 20 bike racks. Shearer submitted five drawings. He was selected in July to produce seven racks for installation by November. His designs are under consideration for another 10, but three are already underway.

“One will look like an abstract dog,” he says. The dog drawings resemble a pointer and Basset hound combined, ears flying in the wind, big nose out front and one leg up pointing. Bikes will park in between two parallel metal hounds. Smaller parallel racks look like unicycles. Another set mirrors the cruiser Shearer rides. The racks will be forged of steel then powder coated in various colors.

“It ties into what I love to do—metal work and riding bikes,” Shearer says.