Stone and copper wire don’t typically exude grace, beauty, and warmth, but when they’re in the hands of wire artist Ryan Kelley something nearly magical happens. A stone becomes a solid, sturdy base for trees whose delicate metal branches twist, turn, and come alive, as though they’re caught in a breeze or about to burst into bloom.
“I can take a spool of melted metal and through twisting, you turn something that’s very harsh and very cold into something that looks alive,” says Kelley. “I like to be able to step back and say, it started as a five-pound spool and now it’s a two-foot tall tree.”
At the age of 21, Kelley’s already crafting wire-and-stone pieces that bear the sophistication and elegance of a seasoned pro. But just a few years ago, the Byfield resident was getting his start in the art room at Triton Regional High School, where he spent his free study periods tinkering with extra supplies. He credits his high school art teacher, Robyn Verette, with entering one of his pieces into the competition for the 2010-2011 Boston Globe Scholastic Art Awards. His piece, Regal Buck, for which he won a Silver Key, depicts an antlered buck made from twists of metal. Kelley says winning the art award showed him that having a life as an artist was a real possibility.
“Mentally it just secured the fact that I was able to take a different route,” he says. “This whole other route just kind of opened up.” These days, the self-taught artist can be found in his home-based workshop, where he solders, cuts, twists, and transforms metal into beautiful pieces of art. He specializes in making trees that look like they’re growing out of a stone base but also produces other pieces, too, and is especially drawn to nature.
In a world of mass-produced art, Kelley says he’s dedicated to making every piece unique, no matter how much his business grows. In fact, he loves being able to create custom pieces that are unique for every client.
For example, “I love taking the stone that I use as a base from the person’s yard or from a place that they’ve been,” Kelley says.
That dedication to his craft has started attracting broader attention. What began as a word-of-mouth business for family and friends has quickly bloomed into something much bigger. He not only creates custom commissions that can fetch anywherefrom $100 to $5,000 or more but has also been tapped by Beverly-based interior designer Amanda Greaves to create custom pieces for local businesses.
“I think he has a really great energy,” Greaves says. “His trees are amazing.”
And although he’s young, Kelley is already very involved in the North Shore arts community, working to bring a new, youthful vibe to seaside galleries that are so often crowded with paintings of ocean scenes in gilded frames. He’s a member of the Newburyport Art Association and also serves on its board of directors.
“I thought that I would be able to give a younger perspective,” he says. “I’m a 21-year-old guy that found a passion, and so far that passion has been leading to success.”