Co-op People: Cutlery Craftsman

Artist Gary Hovey, his wife, Tonnie, and assistant Jim Perrine
Artist Gary Hovey, his wife, Tonnie, and assistant Jim Perrine display a heron sculpted entirely of flatware. The tabletop on which the heron sits was made with more than 200 spoons.

Gary Hovey has had to make some adjustments to his life because of Parkinson’s disease. He can no longer drive a car or work a full-time job. But he has a passion and a purpose that transcends the progressive disease — Hovey sculpts intricately detailed animals and delicately petaled flowers using what many people consider an unusual medium: stainless steel eating utensils.

Hovey, who grew up in a military family, traces his interest in art to his grade school days, when a teacher introduced him to working with clay. He later acquired welding and bronze-casting skills while in the workforce.

When his wife, Tonnie, enrolled in commercial art school in Oklahoma, Hovey went to work at a foundry that does fine art casting for sculptors. Employees were permitted to use equipment and materials for their own projects; it was at that point that his medium began to change from clay to metal. He credits artist John Kearney, who crafts animal sculptures from car bumpers, as inspiration.

Hovey created his first piece, a running dog, in January 2004 and sold it for $200, establishing his Hoveyware brand. A shed at the home of a friend, Midwest Electric member Jim Perrine, served as his workshop for nearly eight years. The two men have become a team as Hovey deals with Parkinson’s.

Each piece Hovey creates is unique. He works on only one project at a time and does so without the aid of molds. He lays out a new idea on his shop floor and then carefully welds the desired form.

His works range from whimsical chicks that fetch $50 to a towering bear standing on its hind legs. The bear’s nearly $10,000 price tag is equally impressive. “I like to capture an animal’s personality and attitude,” Hovey says. “Sense of movement is also important. For fish and frogs, I include their habitat, such as lily pads.”

Though he goes through copious amounts of flatware, he says it’s never been a problem finding enough. His father discovered flea markets, garage sales, and auctions to be treasure troves, and friends and acquaintances also keep the workshop well-stocked with nearly a ton of supplies on site.

People often ask whether Hovey can make something using their heirloom silver or silverplate. He explains that it’s not possible because silver melts at a lower temperature and would be destroyed by the high heat from the welder.

Customers come from near and far after seeing the sculptures on the Hoveyware website and at sculpture tours throughout the country. He hopes to have a celebrity purchase some of his handiwork one day, but so far, the closest he has come is selling five Hoveyware animals to the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at Universal Studios in Orlando.

Herons are his top seller, but he also enjoys creating eagles, dogs, deer, gorillas, squirrels, raccoons, turkeys, lions, owls, and even giraffes. He shies away from creatures like octopuses and snakes, pointing out that some animals are more challenging than others.

Hovey has made some concessions because of Parkinson’s disease. Moving the workshop to just steps from his back door has helped. He no longer works long hours at a time, but he has no intention of pulling the plug on his welder.

“Producing and showing my work is both challenging and therapeutic,” he says. “It helps to maintain my skills and functionality and gives me a purpose. I want my story to inspire others to look for what they can do despite what has happened to them.”

Click here to view Hovey’s gallery and purchase works.