January 26, 2006
Cook Co. --- The Alaska pipeline, that some call the eighth wonder of the world, did more than transfer oil from one place to another.
It revealed a hidden talent in one of its former workers who had spent 18 years helping to maintain it.
One day George Tomberlin decided to try something different on a piece of the pipeline and that experience turned his life in a new direction. George looks noticeably out of place, even overdressed, compared to people bringing in scrap metal to a local buying station.
But he wasn't there to sell. He was there to look at pile after pile of junk metal. He can't see the scrap metal for the art. "Just walking through here I could find all kinds of stuff," says George.
Within seconds he finds a future treasure. "I see a chair out of it for a patio is what I see," says George, as he points to what looks like an old tractor seat.
He saw an almost endless pile of ideas disguised as thrown away metal that he's attracted to like a magnet to steel. "My wife puts blinders on me every time we pass a salvage yard," says George.
He always wants to stop and take a look every time they drive past one. A piece of rusted metal to us could become the foundation of one of George's pieces of artwork.
George Tomberlin is an artist, one of a few where a piece of steel becomes his canvas, where a piece of soap stone becomes a paint brush. "It all comes natural. I've never had any art classes," says George, as he sits in his home where he could easily see a mailbox creation that depicts a miniature ecosystem, one of his latest favorite creations.
He worked for 18 years as a welder on the Alaska pipeline, that runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. "Large piece from a 48 inch pipeline, original part of the oil line," says George about one of his creations.
His advancement from welder to artist came when he created the state map of Alaska out of that old oil pipe. "Different things inspire me," says George.
But nothing inspires him more than a bear, creating one nine feet tall for his yard. "He's an animal that when people go hunting, he hunting you, too," says George.
A special bear made of thrown away electrical wire tells a story. "He's killed a moose and there are the remains of the moose," says George who specializes in nature art. "I've always been a big fan of nature."
It fires his creativity. "If you can visualize it, you can weld it," says George, as he finishes drawing a fish on a piece of steel. He lights a cutting torch and adjusts it for a high temperature, blue flame. He gently touches the flame to the top of the outline that depicts the fish's top fins.
With the precision and patience of a surgeon, his left hand supporting his right hand that held the torch, George followed the soap stone outline to the fish's head and mouth and the rest of its body.
A large mouth Bass appeared out of the steel. Soon he had finished it. George Tomberlin took welding, a skill many people take for granted, and used it to become a hot artist.