Charles Tompkins, 16, uses art to express himself through found materials.
“Art never has to be perfect, so I never have to be perfect when I am making my art,” the Elizabethtown High School sophomore said. “The way I see it, anything can become art — old things can be repurposed into new and beautiful things.”
With art, Tompkins likes that he can complete a project in a few hours or take weeks to perfect his designs. It’s also never ending, he said, adding he cannot imagine running out of things to make.
He started his artistic interests attending summer art camp and weekly art lessons with Regina Williams at Nolin River Art Studio in Glendale. Through that experience, Tompkins said he learned about artists and different styles.
“Most importantly I learned that anything can be art,” he said.
He also works with metal arts and wanted to build his first forge when he was 13. Since that time, he has experimented with new things with metal.
“Charlie has always had a hunger to create,” Williams said. “He creates with whatever he can get his hands on.”
She said Tompkins sees art in everything and his mind always is filled for his next creation.
“I have a Charlie box at the studio filled with items he has set aside waiting for his next project,” she said.
Recently, Tompkins received Kentucky State Fair awards for his work. He entered for the first time in 2019 in two project categories.
“I submitted a set of copper roses in the high school sculpture division and a fabric bird in the adult textile division,” he said. “I was very, very surprised that I won two First Premium Blue Ribbons.”
Tompkins created a metal art project to enter into the 2020 State Fair but that part of the fair was canceled. He plans on entering it next year.
Most of his work is from found materials. He receives permission to look through dumpsters and scrap yards. He also takes items apart and use its parts to make art pieces.
“Found materials make my art exciting and using found parts challenges me to always think about how to combine the various pieces to create something new,” he said. “Found materials never get boring.”
When creating a piece, Tompkins said he often takes them apart and rearranges the parts before he feels like the piece is finished.
“Because most of my materials are found in dumpsters and scrap yards, sometimes I have to wait to finish a project until I find the perfect piece, but I am always on the hunt for new materials,” he said. “I keep a stockpile in my forge.”
His mother, Beth Lochmiller, said he has been creating for as long as she can remember.
“First it was entire Lego cities from scratch and then it was inventions, things like motorized compasses and erasers,” she said. “Now hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear, ‘Mom, come look what I made.’”
Lochmiller said he amazes her.
“I cannot wait to see what he creates in the future,” she said.
During the pandemic and resulting closures, Tompkins had time on his hands to create.
“It gave me the opportunity to build a new blacksmith shop with my dad and then work on several projects,” he said.
His dad, Chris Tompkins, said his son developed his metal working skills on his own with little guidance.
“What he does not already know he researches and experiments to find the answers,” he said. “He is very passionate and motivated to keep creating all of which makes me so proud of him.”
Charles said he built his first forge out of a cast iron pan welded to a flange and pipe. The forge was powered by a blow dryer, wood and charcoal.
He’s built forges out brake rotors, paint cans and oil drums. Charles collects blacksmithing tools at flea markets and auctions and makes specialized tools and repairs tools.
“My most prized tool is a ball peen hammer I pulled out of a lake with a fishing magnet,” he said. “I am also proud of a vice my grandpop gave me that was once his grandfather’s and used in a farrier supply shop.”
Both of his grandfathers gave him “pretty awesome vices,” Charles said.
His aunt, Traci Williams, said the world is a “more joyous” place because of Charles.
“Charlie has a wonderful imagination that allows him to create art from his heart and share his point of view with the world,” she said.
After graduation, Tompkins hopes to major in engineering.
“After college I most definitely will try to continue with my art and maybe incorporate it into my profession,” he said. “At the very least, I will continue my art as a hobby and maybe do some custom freelance work.”