Story by Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
Photography by Lance Thompson
They say one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. This rings especially true when the junk falls into the hands of Jerry Brooks, founder of Rusty Art.
After a pipefitting and welding career from 1970 to 2002, Jerry retired to Idaho. One day he asked his horse farrier what he did with the horse shoes he pulled off the horses.
The farrier replied, “I give them to people like you who want to make things with them.”
“Well that was the start,” recalls metal artist Jerry Brooks. “I had a bucket of used Idaho horseshoes, oxygen and an acetylene torch setup, so I was ready to start creating.” Brooks, having a welding background, found that the welding part came easy; the creativity was a little harder. After a few false starts and some freshly garnered experience, it all started to come together.
Jerry didn’t have a shop, so he built a table and started welding horseshoes into wine holders in the open air.
“My first real shop was an old grain silo my daughter put on her property. I cut a door in it and hauled in what equipment I had—which wasn’t much—and spent one cold winter freezing my fingers.” Things got better after he built a shop into his home, which allowed him the requisite space. He now works in his shop from home, wielding a mig welder, a gas torch, a plasma cutter, grinders, hammers, and other metal working tools. Despite the upgrades, Jerry still has a heating problem.
The cold doesn’t deter him from pursuing his art, however. Using skills he learned in a pipefitting and welding career, Jerry has designed little cowboy wine holders out of horseshoes. Garden art soon evolved from experimenting with different shapes.
“It evolved out of wanting to do more than just make wine holders out of horseshoes. Little by little, I moved into experimenting with different shapes and finding used shovels, rakes, pitchforks, and other farm implements.” Piecing together the various objects, Jerry forms metallic flora and fauna suitable for exterior decorations. He also developed a knack for creating rustic metallic animals.
“When I see a piece of rusted metal or parts of machinery that have been bent and worn by time and the elements, I sometimes see a picture in my mind of what they could become–how they could become pieces of art,” Jerry explains.
The man behind Rusty Art is as whimsical, funny, and unique as his work. Jerry is a playful sculptor of found objects, and his garden art reflects his roots and his love for the earth. In Jerry’s hands, discarded pieces of hardware become objects of born-again beauty. He sees beaks in sheep shears, bodies in shovels, and wings in leaf rakes.
Jerry often turns to nature for inspiration. A Rusty Art sunflower blooms forever, immortalized as petals of metal and leaves welded on wiry stems. A quartet of birds reveals personalities reminiscent of animated cartoons, and looks poised to take flight. A shovel blade forms the body and teeth, while two rakes become outstretched wings. A giant dragonfly looms with lace like wings of burnished copper-colored metal. With a twist and a hook, metallic cattails sprout from the welding torch in Jerry’s workshop, bearing a striking resemblance to the natural surroundings near a summer pond.
For materials, Jerry peruses swap meets, looking for disc blades, shears, grass clippers, chains, and other metal tools. He prefers to work mostly in mild black steel.
“For the dragonflies, black pipe makes the body, and the wings are flat steel. The base is a disc blade,” Jerry explains. “The rocking bird is made with black pipe, sheet metal, a rock; the headdress is a combination of an old pitchfork or some other found object.”
His most popular pieces are the cattails and dragonflies, which feature a surprisingly large four foot wingspan. Other pieces include sunflowers, eagles, pelicans, chickens, flying ducks, and some quirky birds out of Jerry’s imagination.
“My favorite piece is probably the one I haven’t started yet, but have been thinking about for a long time,” muses Jerry. “I spend a lot of time thinking about something I would like to do. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. It gives me a great satisfaction when it all comes together.”
Jerry Brooks’ hand crafted garden art can be shipped anywhere in the U.S. You can meet Jerry on Saturdays at the Capitol City Public Market in September. For more information about the western metal sculptures contact Rusty Art at (208) 850-2529 or [email protected]