Lutz artist transforms rusted railroad spikes, old nuts and bolts and cast-off metal chairs into art
By B.C. Manion
Sparks fly as Karyn Adamek grinds the surface of a rusted railroad spike as she works to create Fancy Dancer, an equestrian metal sculpture.
Smoothing metal surfaces is a basic part of the artist’s job.
“You can’t weld rust on rust,” Adamek explains, as she prepares the surface for welding.
“Since I work with found metal objects, everything is usually rusted. So, I try to get it into some welding condition,” she said.
The makings for her artworks include brake pads, nails, hammers, nuts, bolts, screws, springs, sheet metal, horseshoes, rods and other items.
The stuff comes from all sorts of places.
Flea markets. Thrift stores. Friends’ yards. Even from junk piles she sees on the side of the road.
All of the railroad spikes in Fancy Dancer, for instance, came from an abandoned railroad track on a friend’s private land.
“They had torn up some track on his property and it was in a big pile rotting away,” said Adamek, 52.
“Most of the stuff that I work with – that’s what is happening to it. So, I recreate it and reincarnate it. Certain pieces of metal will inspire me to make a certain creation,” she said.
Recently, she spied a metal chair that had been set out for trash collectors. She plucked it up and gave it new life. She turned it into a plant holder and took it to sell at Annie’s Garden Shed in Lutz, where she works part-time.
Working with metal can be dirty, hot and hard. It’s time-consuming, too.
But Adamek loves it.
“”It is a spiritual thing for me,” she said.
When she’s out in her workshop, she can work 12 or 13 hours at a stretch. She becomes so absorbed in what she’s doing, she often loses track of time.
But there’s a feeling of deep satisfaction when she finishes a piece, she said. And, that feeling can turn into pure joy, when her work is on display and she sees people responding to it.
Her largest metal art works are of horses, which weigh hundreds of pounds and are close to actual life-size.
“They’re a little surreal in a way, in that they are not exactly proportioned,” she said.
She also makes the horse in a modular form, so the head and the tail come off. That makes it easier to transport if she’s taking one to an art show, or if one of her patrons wants to move the horse into a different place in the yard.
Adamek also makes much smaller versions of horses and other sculptures, and she makes functional art, too. For instance, she made a round table from a circular piece of glass, supported by three giant leaves that she cut from metal and bent to hold up the glass.
Through the years, Adamek has explored several artistic mediums including throwing clay, painting and doing sculpture, stained glass and murals.
She doesn’t use mechanical drawings to create her metal art, but instead works from sketches, photographs and paintings.
When she is welding or grinding metal, she is careful to protect herself. She wears gloves, a helmet, long pants, boots and a fire retardant shirt. She also uses good tools to help prevent injuries.
Adamek said she comes by her love of metal work naturally.
“My grandfather worked at J & L Steel in Pittsburgh,” she said. “That’s where I grew up.
“My dad was an amazing auto body man. He made things in our driveway that looked like they came out of the factory.”
The artist did not fully appreciate her father’s or grandfather’s skills when she was young. Indeed, it was just a few years ago when she studying welding that she realized the opportunities she had missed.
She laments the fact that she did not recognize their talents and did not tap into their expertise while they were alive.
“They had all of this knowledge. I didn’t even pay attention to it,”
Strange as it may seem, her work with hard metals began with an interest in gardening.
Adamek was studying horticulture when someone handed her a topiary book.
She decided she wanted to learn how to weld, so she could create topiaries – which are metal structures designed to support plants.
It was like an entirely new world had opened up for her.
She went from learning how to weld at a trade school into working in the real world as a volunteer at a shop in Channelside where they make gates and railings. She wanted to hang out at the shop so she could learn more about working with metals.
Gradually, she began buying pieces of equipment and creating her workshop at home.
She still makes topiaries, but has branched out into all sorts of garden décor, yard art and creative pieces intended for juried art shows.
She won an honorable mention at the Wesley Chapel Celebration of the Arts, a show sponsored last year by the Wesley Chapel Chamber at the Shops at Wiregrass.
At the 43rd Annual Fine Arts for Ocala, she won best of show, picking up $3,000 in prize money.
Prices for her pieces range from around $75 to more than $5,000 for the large equestrian pieces. Adamek also does custom work on request.
While her love for gardening led her onto a new path, Adamek still enjoys working with plants and creating artworks that go well in gardens.
“Plants and metals – I like those two mediums,” she said.
For more information about her work, go to karynsart.com.