Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Climbing and sculpture define a life lived creatively

For artist Jeremy Thomley, life must be lived in the moment. Thomley suffers from cystic fibrosis, a lung disease that regularly puts him in the hospital and hovers as a constant threat over his activities. His response to the ailment leads him to fill his days with things that create joy and beauty. He travels the world climbing whatever he can find to climb, then returns to his south Mississippi studio at Mohawk Steel Company to tell the stories of the climbs in powerful sculptures of steel.

Whimsical metal Whomping Willow

Some of his work is whimsical, like the giant replica of a fictional tree that he is creating from discarded farm machinery. A century of outdated equipment finds new purpose as a child’s fantasy play land. The finished tree will measure more than 30 feet tall. The pieces of equipment, many of which move, form the steps and levels for a climber to ascend to the crow’s nest at the top.

A passion to climb

As part of his climbing passion, Thomley holds climbing parties in his studio. The wall behind him contains climbing holds. He does some work for a climbing hold manufacturer in Phoenix as part of his delight in the process. Planning his climbing trips keeps him going during the all-too-familiar hospitalizations.

Bottle trees garner second looks

His bottle trees stretch steel fingers upward and outward, ready to accept the colorful glass bottles that will adorn them. Thomley forms many of his trees from rebar, adding the texture of the metal to the graceful shape. He explains that, besides being an artistic element in the piece, rebar allows him to make less expensive bottle trees and therefore more affordable trees.

A bottle tree with a twist

Thomley was a speech communication major in college. He uses those skills to tell stories through sculpture. One of his professors requested a tree that would allow his wife to display her glasswork. Thomley adapted the traditional bottle tree to include hooks on the ends to support the woman’s art.

A stone 'lung' takes form

Of all of his projects, the one dearest to his heart is his Anthem series, images reflecting lungs and rib cages. With his own history of breathing problems, it’s no wonder that he finds allure in images about “containing breath or breaking free” as he works. This lung started as a piece of stone he found in Colorado on a climbing excursion.


Thomley shows his diversity with lungs that can burn

A figure of a human torso contains tubing to permit the pipes to be ignited, lighting the room and pulsing with life. A portable fuel tank attaches below the pipes, providing the fuel for the display. The polished metal against the rougher rusted backdrop creates a startling contrast.

A rib cage awaits lungs

A rib cage formed from metal rods awaits the installation of lungs to complete the piece. The structure sits in Thomley’s studio among other projects in various stages of completion. Thomley hopes that his Anthem series will create an enduring legacy, reminding viewers of the preciousness of the gift of breath.

A glass lung takes shape

Working with a glassblower colleague, Thomley has created delicate glass lungs for a piece in the Anthem series. The mottled coloring calls to mind the fragile sacs within human lungs, and their importance in the process of breathing.


An inside view of a glass lung

Thomley shows the interior of the glass lung. He also collaborates with a woodworking friend for other depictions of lungs. Many of his pieces are on display at Artwistic Revolution Cooperative Gallery in Columbia, Miss. He combines his talent for metal art and the shadow of perhaps having only “one more summer” to create powerful sculptures that delight and inspire.

 Originally appeared on 09/08/2013 at

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