“Since I can’t work a regular job anymore, making my art gives me purpose. I want my story to inspire others to look for what they can do despite what has happened to them.” These words are taken from the website (www.hoveyware.com) of rural New Knoxville resident, Gary Hovey who has Parkinson’s disease.
Fifty-eight-year-old Hovey was first diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in 1994, when he was a 30-something husband and father of four young children. In the past 15 years, despite the debilitating illness, he has transformed from having a traditional career in the construction/welding field to becoming an artist well-known for his unique wildlife creations. His sculptures are fashioned out of ordinary stainless steel flatware, with the majority of the knives, forks, spoons and occasional pie server or other tableware being repurposed.
Growing up, Gary moved a lot, because his late father, Bob Hovey, was in the Navy. The family even lived in the Philippines for a couple of years, but eventually settled in Winfield, Kansas, Bob’s hometown.
After retiring from the military, his dad became a machinist and carpenter.
“Gary gets a lot of his three dimensional and his construction genius from his father,” said Tonnie Hovey, Gary’s wife of 38 years.
The sculptor’s father, who died in 2015, frequented flea markets and garage sales to purchase used flatware inexpensively and then mailed it to his son in flat-rate boxes. Gary’s studio is filled with large plastic containers that hold his dad’s contribution to his artwork. “He was Gary’s biggest fan,” Tonnie said.
The couple met in a Winfield high school art class. Tonnie was a junior and Gary was a senior.
“When I was dating Tonnie over four decades ago, we saw some work by [artist] John Kearney, sculptures made from (chrome) car bumpers,” said Gary. Kearney’s pieces birthed a seed in Gary to use flatware to create smaller sculptures that “people could have in their homes.” Still, not being a trained welder and busy with life, he forgot about the idea for decades.
Instead, Gary was employed in a metal shop in a fine arts foundry in the early 1980s. He later provided for his family through employment in the construction industry. He “ran heavy equipment and … learned how to weld,” he said.
In 2004, a decade after being diagnosed, he made his first flatware sculpture, a running dog. Having acquired the skill of welding made this possible. Then Gary made a heron, and people began buying the unusual sculptures. He sold 30 pieces of his flatware artwork that first year.
Despite the joy creating art gives the New Knoxville sculptor, having Parkinson’s disease is a daily battle. His symptoms started with a twitching finger. Eventually his body began to freeze instead of shaking, the most common effect.
For a while, he was able to continue in a supervisory position and then work part-time, but by 2010 the progression of the disease forced Gary to retire. Yet he refuses to give up and continues doing his artwork, specifically commissioned sculptures.
“I have to push myself,” said the Shelby County resident. “Sometimes, I feel like I’ve given up, but I keep moving … my family needs me.”
As for family, Gary’s four adult children include Lark, David, Casey and Ruby, who are all college graduates and artists of some kind. Tonnie enjoys her part-time position as a graphic designer at Sidney’s Creative Marketing Strategies and also handles Gary’s communications, website and critiquing his sculptures.
Tonnie admits there are difficult days.
“Sometimes, I try not to think about it too much. I try to focus on what we are able to do, and do the best we can with what we’ve got,” she said. “When you’re married to someone who has a long-term disability, you are a partnership. It’s like you both have it …. I just do what I can to keep myself strong.”
“Having things to look forward to really helps a lot,” said the artist’s wife. For instance, for the past five years, Gary’s sculptures have been featured in the Decatur, Indiana, Sculpture Tour, recently at St. Francis University in Fort Wayne, and in Michigan, among other places. “We’ve enjoyed the people we’ve met, the artists and the patrons,” said Tonnie “We’ve made some great friends … .”
In this artistic circle, Gary Hovey is referred to as The Spoon Guy. Although if you meet him, the title The Inspiring Spoon Guy seems a lot more accurate.
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.