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Tharp spent two weeks in Maine as a teacher’s assistant for John Rais at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. After being there, she wanted to teach in those types of situations again. (Kylee Gates / WUFT News)

Local Metal Artist Finds Beauty Through Sparks And Flame

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The clanking of a hammer against metal can be heard from outside her garage studio with the smell of gas and steel wafting in the heat.

Leslie Tharp, a 33-year-old Gainesville resident, spends her time transforming scraps of metal into works of art. When Tharp isn’t working on commissioned projects for businesses, the city of Gainesville and individuals, she’s teaching classes and leading workshops on blacksmithing.

In early July, Tharp was selected as a teaching assistant by John Rais for a two-week workshop at the Haystack School of Craft in Maine. Rais is a nationally recognized blacksmith, designer and sculptor from Massachusetts who is commissioned for his one-of-a-kind work. Rais was honored with an Arts/Industry Residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in 2006, and his pieces have been featured in various books and magazines, as well as museums and galleries.

Sparks fly as Leslie Tharp works on a new sculpture. Tharp never thought about becoming a blacksmith until she graduated from the University of Florida in 2008 and went on to attend Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. That is where she fell in love with the craft and decided to pursue a career in it. (All photos by Kylee Gates / WUFT News )

 

Tharp wants to continue carving a path to grow her art practice where she can build bigger things. “I am endlessly inspired by the different ecosystems, lifecycles and the way humans interact with the wild world around us,” she said.

Tharp’s latest sculpture is for Green Acres Park, a Gainesville park, on 643 SW 40th St. She was commissioned by Gainesville to create a metal support that looks like a plant for a tree that is not growing upward. After a few months of sculpting and painting, her work is now available to see and the official ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for September.

Tharp said her inspiration comes from the world and how humans interact with it. Depending on the project, she makes sure her work tells the story of the place it’s destined for. Tharp also finds blacksmithing to be therapeutic. “There’s something similar to yoga and meditation that I find with being a blacksmith,” Tharp said.

Tharp said controlling the metal with her tools helps her brain shut off and allows her to work in time with the materials.

Tharp’s favorite part about being a blacksmith is taking rudimentary elements, like fire and force, and getting an immediate result. “Whether it’s a long-term six-month project or a one-hour project, I show up and enjoy seeing the materials and the object develop before my eyes,” she said.

Tharp has made pieces for many businesses, parks and nature sites in Gainesville and across the country. She hopes to expand her placement farther than Missouri.

About Kylee Gates

Kylee Gates is a general assignment reporter for WUFT. She can be reached at news@wuft.org or (352)294-6397

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