Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Cory O’Rourke is a Rochester area native using blacksmith techniques and modern metalworking tools to produce edgy, innovative sculptures and housewares.
I catch up with Cory in his studio at the Hungerford Building-- a fitting space to house his work. Cory grew up as an artistic kid in Hilton, NY and attended high school in Greece, NY. He eventually ventured down to Gainesville, FL to complete his education in welding. He tells me, “I wanted to pursue a viable career that still allowed me to use my artistry. Being able to make things out of metal was a huge draw. I’ve always wanted to be a sculptor.”
Cory currently works 50-60 hours a week at a structural steel welding shop in Webster. There, he is able to source recycled materials for his pieces. Cory approaches his 9-5 from an artistic standpoint, with the end goal of becoming a full-time artist. He says, “I’m just not going the traditional route of going to art school, I’m learning about the materials from an industry standpoint.”
Cory has had his studio in the Hungerford for about a year now, and has been making a push to sell his work for the past few months. All of Cory’s pieces are crafted from either metal or wood, with the same process in mind. Cory says, “All I do is daydream about making art, whether it’s on wood or with steel. I think about it constantly.” Once he dreams something up, he translates his vision to paper before making in real life. From there, he tries to emulate the drawing with the materials, but admits that the majority of the process is following his instincts in the moment: “It’s all play. I have a basic framework for what I am going to create, but it’s all improvisation from there. Once you have basic knowledge of how the metal reacts to heat, you can play around with manipulating it in different ways. It’s all part of the process: experimentation and learning the material.”
Like any artist, Cory has experienced the “inner turmoil” that comes with letting go of precious pieces. He explains, “Art is very personal. I’ve been making it for forever; it’s always been a huge part of my life.” Making the transition from creating for hobby, to creating for sales takes a shift in mindset. There is a constant battle for artists to price pieces reasonably for sales, without compromising what they should be earning based on time spent creating and the price of materials and tools. But Cory admits he works without monetizing his time. “If I wasn’t selling my pieces, I’d still be here piecing things together and making whatever I can,” he tells me. Cory adds, “If I only thought about money while making each piece, it would take the fun out of it.”
Most of Cory’s pieces are functional, and inspired by what he enjoys (like his plant stands and bottle openers!). He explains, “I just love plants! The stands are approachable for customers because of their price point and function, but they’re still art.” Functional art is Cory’s specialty, but for him, a decorative piece serves a function as well. He tells me, “If you look at something and like it, it serves a purpose. There’s little difference in my eyes between the two.”