Beauty and design implicit in all metal objects

Dr. Evermore aka Tom Every: An Artisan of Delight

by Ed Beers

Every’s sculptures can be seen on the west side of Hwy 12 north of Sauk City and south of Baraboo
In early summer, browsing in a local bookstore, I was drawn, like a filing to a magnet, to a particular book on display. On the cover an earnest, yet whimsical face that seemed organically fused with an odd assortment of metal relics in the background, stared at me. The book’s title also caught my eye. “A Mythic Obsession-The World of Dr. Evermore,” (1) is an intriguing account of the life and work of Tom Every, a Wisconsin artist utterly fascinated by the myriad possibilities for beauty and design implicit in all metal objects, both enormous and minute.

Tom Kupsh, the author, an acquaintance of Tom Every since the 1970’s, like a professional detective, has searched every facet of his friend’s life. With the cooperation of Tom’s relatives and friends he has explored ancestral anecdotes, Tom’s childhood experiences, the nuances of family relationships and the influence of the broader community. He has examined accounts of Every’s work that appear in a variety of publications and had access to extensive correspondence. Among the book’s many gifts are the detailed index and selected bibliography, and the abundant photographs from the Every family collection and those by art photographer Jim Wildeman.

Even in his younger days, several experiences converged to shape Tom’s imaginative use of the materials he collected. Tom’s grandmother, Adeline Every, who lived with the family, read aloud to him fanciful childhood tales that stirred his imagination. When the family moved from Madison to Brooklyn, Wisconsin and he got his driver’s license, Tom modified his 1950 Ford truck so he could cart the astonishing variety of materials he collected, bartered and sold. The excess was stored in a back room in a friend’s machine shop. As the book’s author puts it, “Tom was a tinkerer and was fascinated by the ‘spirit’ of many of the scrap materials that passed through his hands. He had an eye for the design and history of the salvage that crossed his path.” Even during a stint in the army, his craftsman’s eye was being honed. “He excelled in carpentry school and was assigned to build scale models for classroom demonstration.”

As his innovative art progressed he required space for display. In 1972 he and his family moved to a large Georgian-style home on Madison’s West side. There he completed two large projects, a huge cannon, named “The Egginton” after his ancestral home in England and “The Epicurean,” an unusually large back yard grill. Both projects consisted of parts from factories, railroad cars, breweries and old water towers.

At the same time Tom began to assist Alex Jordan, who was developing “The House on The Rock,” a popular tourist attraction. He and Jordan constructed what became known as the world’s largest carousel. During this time “ …motivated by passion and challenges,” Tom began to refer to himself as “Mr. Buildmor,” and Jordan confirmed Tom’s vocation when he told him, “There’s a great artist inside you and he’s longing to get out”

Ironically, a series of financial setbacks that deepened his introspection, became the key that released the artist in him. Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, once observed,” We had fed the heart on fantasies, the heart’s grown brutal from the fare.” For Tom the reverse is true. The more he followed his fantasies, the lighter his heart, the more whimsical his creations and the greater the pleasure he gained from his work.

The author describes the shift this way. “The transformation that had begun with his work at the House on the Rock continued as he found his artistic voice in new work….again and again he turned to his work to express what his words couldn’t touch, for comfort in times of distress, or to escape the realities around him.”

As he reflected on his ancestry in England, a myth, through multiple telling and embellishment, emerged. According to Tom’s fabricated story, a young boy, obsessed with the notion of travelling to the celestial spheres, becomes a famous scientist, known as Dr. Evermor, who constructs an enormous craft that he christens the Forevertron for galactic exploration. The launching is such a famous event that even British royalty attend. Taking on the persona of his imagined scientist and allowing his creative instincts to lead, Tom spends the next three years constructing his own Forevertron which becomes his “Mythical Obsession.” In need of evermore space he moves his salvage and collected scrap onto land owned by a friend. Tom, now transformed into his whimsical hero, Dr. Evermor, with a small crew and every imaginable sort of discarded metal, creates what in modern parlance is a giant space shuttle weighing 300 tons and standing four stories high. As author Tom Kupsh describes it: “The smooth and rough, painted and weathered surfaces of copper, stainless steal, iron, brass, glass and ceramic give the Forevertron environment a sensuous texture that lives up to Tom’s description of his work and process as ‘touch/feel.’ It is a dramatic sight in any light at any time of year.” According to the” Guiness Book of World Records” (1999), the Evertron is the largest scrap-metal sculpture in the world.

Adjacent to The Forevertron, another large project has emerged. The Everys’ son, Troy, began to create humorous figures from small pieces of scrap, a project that eventually evolved into a series of larger figures resembling birds, some with moveable body-parts. Eleanor, Tom’s spouse, collected damaged musical instruments which, fused with the metal birds in hilarious forms, would become “The Bird Band” that, adding to the fantasy, would provide music on the day the Forevertron would be launched.

Many artists have shown interest in Dr. Evermore’s work. Among them, the late Dean Meeker, an internationally recognized printmaker and sculptor who taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, developed a fruitful friendship with Dr. Evermore. As Tom Kupsh suggests, “they were at polar extremes creatively.” Dean began with detailed sketches and models,”…everything reasoned and carefully thought through.” Tom’s method was intuitive. He often didn’t know where he was headed when he began a particular work. A brief interchange confirms their different styles:(2)

Dean looked at the Forevertron and said, “Tom, do you have any drawings for this?”
Tom looked at him and said, “Now, Dean, you know I’m no drawer, you’ve seen my drawings.”
“Well, do you make maquettes?” Dean asked.
“What the hell is a maquette?”
“It’s a model,” replied Dean
“Oh, I don’t do that either,” was Tom’s laughing response.

What is Dr. Evermor’s method of creation? The author offers this assessment:

“In his work he preserves intact many tools, machines, and artifacts that span the industrial age….[he]has been fascinated by what he calls the ‘spirit’ of the tools and machines that he salvages, and he wants us to see them as alive with the spirit of those who made use of them. He builds with respect for ‘historic integrity’ of the parts.

During a visit to the Sculpture Park, the plot of land on which Dr. Evermor’s creations have their home, I realized why I was drawn to Tom Kupsh’s story of his friend. His personality has a magnetic influence. He loves human encounter, enjoys describing the creative process that shapes the art that surrounds him, and he chuckles at his own foibles.

Surrounded by his amazing collection of artifacts, a tarpaulin shading him from the sun, visitors may stop with a query about a particular piece he has created. Because a stroke and various surgeries limit mobility he presides over his domain from a wheelchair while Luke, a helper, and Eleanor, his (now divorced) wife assist him with sales of his craft and tinkering with fresh forms of his art.

Surveying the scene, I think, here he is at age 70, increasingly famous for his original craftsmanship, curator of an alfresco museum, overseeing the fruits of his “Mythic Obsession,” and as I imagine, grateful, as readers of his book are, to author Tom Kupsh for his thoughtful account in picture and print, of Dr. Evermor’s unusual career as an artisan of delight.

(1) A Mythic Obsession The World of Dr. Evermor by Tom Kupsh
Chicago Review Press, 2008
(2)Ibid pp.35,36