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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events.

Twin City artist Tom Kirk's concrete lady is just the start of his future sculpture park

Emily Bollinger
Bloomington artist Tom Kirk's unnamed concrete lady is the first piece in what he plans will be a free, public sculpture park.

Tom Kirk doesn’t view his day job as co-owner of Henson Disposal as related to his visual art — apart from the inside look he gets at how much people throw away.

Kirk has spent the past several years building large-scale art pieces from discarded metal, gears and machinery, and he recently expanded to a spot in downtown Bloomington where a concrete lady now sits beneath the Main Street bridge.

Kirk is an opportunist. He sees the hidden potential in everything from broken-down construction vehicles to scrap metal and other trinkets, turning them into whimsical works of art integrated into the façade, yard and interior of his east Bloomington home.

Seeking to make bigger projects, Kirk has now started working in a downtown Bloomington lot he owns. He was motivated to expand his skill set to other materials, and his first project in what he hopes will be a free, public sculpture park is a prone, concrete woman propped up on her elbows.

“I did use metal working and welding in shaping the inside of that woman,” Kirk said. “The learning curve was substantial. I spent so much time on the frame, thinking I was going to get a lot of detail out of the concrete. Come to find out, we could not. It wouldn’t allow me to shape it how I wanted to. So, a lot of the time that I spent was great from an educational standpoint, but was wasted as far as the outcome.”

Still, Kirk tends not to think about what he wishes a project could have been and is ultimately happy with the results. The intentionally unnamed lady is mostly done, except for Kirk’s plan to place a glowing orb in her hands when the weather is a bit warmer. He plans to announce a get-together celebrating the sculpture's completion.

“(The light) will be on all the time,” Kirk said. “It’s something that people can come around and admire and enjoy.”

Kirk started making art after a divorce. He was in search of a diversion unrelated to his work in commercial and residential waste and recycling services, and found he enjoyed the physicality of metal work and welding. The most convenient place to experiment was at home.

“I found it by accident. I started building one day and was like, wow, this is super cool," he said. "That was seven years ago and now it’s part of my everyday life."

Kirk’s art also has been a way to connect with his two teenage daughters.

“They don’t understand, nor see what they live in. It’s their element. It’s just their home. To them, it’s just where we live.”

Emily Bollinger
Tom Kirk and daughters in the kitchen of their East Bloomington home.

Kirk hosts annual receptions at his home, usually framed around the unveiling of a new project, and views the house and sculpture park as a gift to the community. He and his brother have owned the plot in the warehouse district — formerly housing a John Deere building — for more than a decade. The move to turn it into a public art space happened, like his home, somewhat by accident.

“The truth of it is, I had a relationship that ended and I kind of lost my way,” Kirk said. Once again, he turned to art and focused his attention on the sculpture park this past fall and winter. “It happened really fast.”

Kirk self finances the endeavor and will focus on his sculpture park for the next two years. A future goal is to convert another property he owns in the warehouse district into an artistic playground fashioned after the City Museum in St. Louis.

“I’m going to dedicate my life to sculptures, to arts," he said, "and to building something for people to enjoy.”

Tom Kirk’s concrete lady can be seen any time at 410 S. Madison St. Visual artists interested in showing their work at the 410 Sculpture Park can contact Kirk through Facebook or Instagram.

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