Blythewood artist shines at WEG

These ‘Fighting Stallions’ designed and created by Thomas Humphries, who grew up in Blythewood, brought bigger-than-life art to the World Equestrian Games. | Maria Ott

TRYON, NC – Blythewood sculptor Thomas Humphries, 45, is enjoying the international limelight after receiving a last-minute request from the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina to display one of his recent works of art. The shimmering metal sculpture – a ten-foot-tall depiction of clashing stallions – was, until Saturday, Sept. 8, sitting in Humphries’ backyard. Two days later, the sculpture was prominently displayed at an entry point of the Games, attracting the attention of equestrian sports spectators from all around the world. And Humphries, a longtime hobbyist sculptor, said he couldn’t be more thrilled by the twist of fate.

Humphries

“When I started this piece in 2014, I’d been looking for a new idea, something that would challenge me and really push my abilities,” he said in an interview with The Voice.  “I was thinking of the wonderful ‘Fighting Stallions’ piece by Anna Hyatt Huntington at the entrance to Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, and I thought, wow, something like that would be exciting to do. That’s where this piece came from. It’s a tribute to Huntington’s sculpture.”

Humphries, who also owns and manages a roofing and home maintenance business, has other sculptures on display at locations closer to home, including a giraffe, lions and zebra at Riverbanks Zoo and a dancing couple at the Blue Room Ballroom in West Columbia. He creates his often larger-than-life art from discarded odds and ends of metal that he regularly finds and collects.

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt every day,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve got a certain eye, and I can spot metal in a pile of leaves. I’m always scanning and looking for it. I average about one to three pieces a day. I find them in parking lots or wherever I happen to be doing roofing or maintenance jobs. Old barbell pieces, old caulk guns, stuff that people consider trash. I know I can weld it together, so I add it to my big pile of stuff.”

Humphries said the 1500-pound equestrian sculpture consists of about 500 pieces of stainless steel and carbon steel. He used a stick welder to bind it all together before spraying the whole thing with shiny silver paint.

His fiancé, Maria Ott, spent time reaching out to a number of people about the possibility of displaying Humphries’ work, and one of the people she connected with was Annette Compson-Goyette, the Director of Vendors at the Tryon Equestrian Center.

A group of Blythewood residents attending the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, NC last week, had their photo snapped with Thomas Humphries’ ‘Fighting Stallions’ sculpture. From left: Carroll Ann Bowers, Jan Reynolds, Diane Smith, Paula Spinale, Kit Turner and Joyce Hill. | Submitted by Joyce Hill

“It was really exciting to get that call from Annette, asking us to bring it on up,” he said. “But getting it up there was a big ordeal.”

At a cost of $2500, Humphries hired a team of professionals who came with the necessary heavy-duty equipment to place the sculpture onto a flatbed and transport it safely. He also spent about 10 hours welding a cage around the outer sides of the horses to secure them for travel.

“That was made from some old bedframes that I’d picked up along the side of the road,” he said. “It made a really strong frame.”

It had rained before they arrived, and Humphries said it was nerve-wracking to watch the huge flatbed truck navigate a steep, wet clay hill at the event grounds.

“The truck started to slide, almost into a jackknife,” he said. “It was pretty scary, but luckily the driver was able to stop it completely before the truck flipped over with the sculpture. It was a really close call. But those guys did a great job.”

The sculpture was on site by Monday, though he still had to stabilize it against the threat of heavy winds from the approaching Hurricane Florence, remove the shipping supports and touch up the paint.

“By the early afternoon on Tuesday, it was ready for action,” he said. “And I’ll be up there again this week. They’re going to set up a tent where I can talk to folks [about the artwork] and hold a silent auction for the piece.”

Compson-Goyette has also invited him to display the horse sculpture at the 2019 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, unless it ends up being purchased in Tryon. Humphries said that he’s delighted to be able to reach more people with his art.

“The enjoyment that people get out of what I make is one of the biggest things that I enjoy about it,” he said. “I was down at the zoo, refurbishing a lion sculpture I’ve got there, and a gentleman said to me, ‘man, I’ve never really cared about art, but I like that.’ It makes me feel good, to take art and put a twist on it that people enjoy.”

Humphries said his goal is to work full-time as an artist.

“Until now it’s strictly been a hobby,” he said, “but I’m hoping that will change here in the near future, to become something that I can share regularly with people and maybe make an income from.”

Spectators will be able to view Humphries’ sculpture in Tryon until the World Equestrian Games wrap up on Sept. 23.