Whereas some artists use a paintbrush or chisel, Thomas Lyles prefers an acetylene torch.
Mr. Lyles opened Studio Blue in a workshop at his Evans home about 10 years ago, when he first took up metal sculpting. Since then, he has created metal and multimedia works for such Augusta locations as Walton Rehabilitation Center, Congregation Children of Israel Temple on Walton Way and Augusta Technical College, where he teaches welding.
"I'm a multimedia artist, but I do work a lot with metal," he said. "As a welder, it was a natural extension of something I was already familiar with."
After five years working as a welder at Plant Vogtle, Mr. Lyles started teaching at Augusta Tech about 20 years ago.
Last month, he embarked on a new project to create a tribute to the air conditioner. He won the commission as part of a contest sponsored by a cultural arts foundation in Gadsden, Ala., his hometown.
"That was a tough one to come up with," Mr. Lyles admitted. "How do you create something to honor air conditioning?"
The answer to his own question was to build a working air conditioner as an art element. While visitors admire his work, they can position themselves under vents blowing cold air.
The multimedia piece also includes candelabras, a liquid crystal display featuring an air-conditioning training video, a small bookcase, a poem etched into a centered panel and a rotating column filled with historical images.
"I remember being a kid in Gadsden, when air conditioners first started getting big, and you would have all these businesses advertising they had air conditioners as a way to entice people inside the store," Mr. Lyles said. "You know, it worked.
"Including those old photographs as part of a mosaic seemed like a natural element to include in this."
Mr. Lyles developed an artistic interest as a child in his Alabama home.
"I was always a creative person," he said. "My mom used to say that I must eat crayons, because I'd go through them so fast."
Temporarily pushing an artistic career to the side, Mr. Lyles said he took up welding to avoid breadlines.
"The image of the starving artist isn't so cliche," he said. "I needed to be able to provide for my family, but I knew I'd take up art again someday."
Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOMETOWN: Gadsden, Ala.
OCCUPATION: Artist and welding instructor
FAMILY: Wife, Leesa; daughters, Savanna, 18, and Hanna, 15
QUOTE: "I love the process of creation. Even in school, I'm taking students and making them into something they can be proud of."