A Columbus couple creates fantastical sculptures that evoke youth.
Chances are good that you've seen the whimsical artwork of Tony Ball, even if you don't realize it. His 12-foot-tall steel sunflowers at Inniswood Metro Gardens are popular, and he designed the copper dragon on the façade of Molly Woo's at Polaris, among many other public works. Yet most people have never heard his name.
Ball is the owner and creative force behind Tork Collaborative Arts, a South Side shop that specializes in fabricating oversized art that ranges from functional and precise to massive and experimental. Sometimes it's both at once. His public art piece for the city of Westerville doubles as a shelter and measures 23 feet wide by 17 feet high, with colored panels, giant golden bumblebees and what Ball describes as a glass dandelion “poof” on top. He says it's the best piece of his career. Perhaps more important to the long-time sculptor and metalworker is that it stays true to his style—making people remember what it's like to be young.
That theme carries forward to his newest work, a Christmas tree scheduled to be installed in Franklin Park Conservatory's new outdoor Children's Garden in early November. He says conservatory leaders were looking for what they called “a whirly tree” that can be covered in decorations.
“They wanted it to have some movement and action,” Ball says. “I've always leaned toward Dr. Seuss and his whimsy, so that's what I'm headed toward.”
His love of the childlike is one of his wife's favorite things about him. “This isn't just what he does with art,” Tracie Ball says. “It's like living with Genie from ‘Aladdin.' ”
The Worthington couple, both 48, have worked together at Tork since 2015 in what they call a perfect partnership. They have clashing styles, with Tony thriving in chaos and Tracie leveraging her background in business. She serves as an accountant, marketer and social media pro, attracting eyeballs to Tony's work.
Their partnership has produced a variety of large-scale projects that are everyday sights for Central Ohioans. Tork was behind the Columbus College of Art & Design's Red Ribbon Fence, the Sun Structures at Grove City's Fryer Park and the Kinetic Bird Sculpture at Dublin Methodist Hospital.
Tony's specialty in creating interesting, durable and precise models using atypical materials has also yielded several high-profile commercial projects, including the fish sculpture outside the Columbus Fish Market, the flames above BD's Mongolian Grill at Easton and the metal claws on the doors of Red Lobsters across the country.
He's perfectly happy having thousands of people see his work without knowing his name. “My whole career, I've never marketed; I've never been like, ‘Hey, look what I've done,'” Tony says. “It's always, ‘What's next?' That's my drive.”
What's more important, he says, is that he keeps outdoing himself and creating “something you've never seen before.” And whether he's working on a massive Christmas tree or covering a doll in a layer of shiny chrome, he would rather stick with what he loves than aim for something edgy and dark.
“I think that touches a good nerve with people,” Tracie says. “I don't think people always need to observe art from the perspective of depressing thoughts and subject matter. We all have that. What we'd all like a little more of is that joy and escapism and that feeling of being a kid again.”***
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