By Kevin Gray
“Working with metal is interesting and exciting since new forms and shapes are born all the time,” says Stanley Thomson ’46 of Naples, Fla. “Scrap metal to one person is potential three-dimensional art to another.”
And, seeing the hidden sculpture latent in a pile of scrap metal is just one factor that led Thomson to launch a second career as a sculptor and painter in 1985 at age 62.
“I had always loved to draw and paint,” says Thomson, a mechanical engineering graduate who studied watercolor with Sanford Brooks, Phil Olmes, and Ed Whitney in Cincinnati, Ohio, and welding with R.A. Jones at the Ohio Mechanics Institute in 1973. “Then, I began getting scrap metal [from the production of machinery] and creating small sculptures from it. That got me started in this medium.” He was director of sales for R.A. Jones & Co., Covington, Ky., which builds packaging machinery for companies such as DuPont and Procter & Gamble.
Thomson’s signature piece—Flight—has greeted travelers and visitors to Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio, since 1989. The centerpiece of the stainless steel work is a large globe with three airplanes taking flight from the interior.
Other works of note include The Visitors, placed outside Dayton Public Library’s Brookville, Ohio branch, and several sculptures throughout Terrace Park, Ohio. His works have been exhibited at Art Association of Richmond, Ind.; Cincinnati Art Museum; and Miami University Art Museum, Oxford, Ohio; and are part of the collections at Indianapolis Children’s Museum and Naples Museum of Art, Florida.
Thomson merged his sales background and love for building relationships with people with his artistic creations.
“I would visualize a piece and then make a little model of it,” Thomson explains, so that his early pieces could fit on a tabletop. “I would present it to the company for their approval or suggested modifications. As I continued on, I made calls on different corporations like American Home Products, Whitehall Laboratories, and Boise Cascade that commissioned me to do sculptures for them.”
Thomson’s pieces became much larger, some weighing nearly 2,000 pounds. He worked with American Metal Products, a small fabricator in Cincinnati, to have them assemble the large pieces based on his design.
“They had the cranes and machinery necessary to handle massive pieces of aluminum, stainless steel, copper, or steel,” Thomson says. “They would cut and weld the metal. I did some of that work myself, but primarily I handled finishing by grinding and polishing.”
Thomson, a New Jersey native, joined the Navy’s V-12 program while he was in the mechanical engineering program at Lafayette.
“Lafayette provided a great start for me,” Thomson says. “I really enjoyed my time there and the friendships I made. Although we didn’t want to leave, the Navy relocated us.” He and his peers were sent to different schools; Thomson finished at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Mass.
After graduation and World War II, he served on the USS Henry A. Wiley and USS Thompson helping with mine-sweeping operations in the Pacific Ocean. He retired with rank of Fire Control 3rd Class and earned the Good Conduct, American Theater, Asiatic Pacific Theater, and Victory medals.
“In the last couple of years, I’ve slowed down with sculpting,” says Thomson, who lives in a retirement home. “I don’t have the facilities here that I had in Ohio, although there is a fabricator in Naples that I have used.”
Several of Thomson’s recent sculptures—one of six-foot-tall cattails—adorn the fabricator’s office. Although his sculpting career has slowed, the fruits of his artistic vision are continuing to bring joy to thousands.