KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Many of us strive to be lifelong learners and that’s no different for those living with disabilities. A Knoxville sculpture artist has opened up his studio to help make what many would think was impossible happen.
Gary Harmon has learned to do a lot of things in his own way all of his life. His current passion is welded sculpture.
“Joe came to Spark who was talking to Mary Thom [Adams] who is our director, and he was talking about how he was a lifelong welder, and it is something he loves. It’s in his blood and he wants to offer welding classes to anybody who would like to take them and so Mary Thom called me and said hey guess what, Gary, you want to learn to weld,” said Harmon.
It’s not just that Harmon has never tried welding, he was actually inspired by the opportunity.
“I told Joe what I wanted to do was to have a table that stood the same way I do. So, we drew out what the prosthetic leg would look like from an outline from my own really,” he said.
The offer to learn how to weld was a bit of a surprise.
“When my mother was pregnant with me, for reasons no one knows the interior lining of the amniotic sac shredded. This happens very rarely but there are people like me around the country. It’s very rare. You seldom hear about it. And nobody knows what causes it for sure. My mother said, when we were talking about this, I never could mind my own business. So, when they shredded, I started playing with them. And they got wrapped around my arms and my legs. And apparently my face and a little bit of my chest as well. And it left me with no complete limbs.”
Harmon is a retired teacher who is now a volunteer with Spark. “The mission of Spark is to connect people with disabilities in East Tennessee to the adaptive technology tools and services they need to live with maximum independence and dignity,” according to the non-profit.
In the Spark basement is Knox Makers, a collective of Knoxville artists and creators. Knox Makers says it’s “a place for the Knoxville area’s engineers, artists, hobbyists, innovators, educators and entrepreneurs to work and play.”
Professional welder and artist, Joe Hall, walked upstairs with an idea to encourage those with disabilities to make art.
“I started welding when I was 19 years old,” he said. Hall sees himself as the middleman, filling the gap where there are physical limitations. He’s enjoyed the relationship he’s formed with Harmon. “A lot of fun. Gary, I mean you’ve seen. He’s a character and so we became friends pretty much right away.”
Hall guided Harmon throughout the process of making their art. “Then we’ll come down here. We’ll do some safety to make sure everybody’s okay and then the artist will start making their thing and then whenever there’s a point where they might need a little bit more help then that might be where I step in and I’m just more like their welding robot to help them accomplish whatever they that part of their sculpture is,” said Hall.
The pair says they don’t have plans to stop anytime soon.
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“I’m a religious person so I believe there’s a purpose to all of this and I love it. I wouldn’t want to be any other way. I don’t need hands or feet. Why need this when you can do most anything you want to do without them,” Harmon reflects.
Proving so, one sculpture at a time.
If you are a person with a disability who wants to learn to weld contact Spark for more information at (865) 219-0130.