Melding Community Through Functional Art
February 2020 Issue
by David Smith, MD
Photography by Cassidy Dunn
Kevin Lawless realized at an early age that he had difficulty with reading and he later learned he had dyslexia. Rather than let this learning handicap limit his life, he also realized he was blessed with an amazing talent that has led to a lifetime of living his dream. Kevin sees the world differently than most people. He envisions beauty where others see junk. He has become a famous artist with the talent to create stunning sculptures, metal gates, bicycle racks, fences and grills all through the art and skill of welding.
He uses MILD Steel, often mistakenly referred to as wrought iron, as his medium. He learned much of his craft from his father-in-law.
Kevin realized his dyslexia prevented him from being academically on par with other students so he decided not to try to go to college. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Navy in 1973 “to see the world.” The Navy opened other gates for Kevin. He trained as a Navy Seal and spent time working in Intelligence. Throughout his travels he always had an eye for “functional art.” He left the Navy in 1979 and was able to go to college on the GI Bill. He received an associate’s degree and later a bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, he was able to earn a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Arts and Design. After teaching for several years, he went on to open his own business—Iron Art by Kevin, Inc. He has mentored students as interns who wanted to learn the art of welding. He stresses that his blacksmithing job is fraught with danger. “Safety is essential, he said.” He enjoys teaching and passing on his skills to students—both girls and boys.
Kevin gives much of the credit for his Master’s degree to his wife Sherri. She is quite the motivator, has a PhD, has retired from the University of Georgia and now works at Hilton Head Prep helping students prepare for college admissions testing.
Kevin does a lot of work for the firemen. He prides himself in his many charitable contributions. He is proud to have provided auction items to his favorite island charities thorough out the years.
When asked what were his favorite accomplishments he quickly replied, “Making a four-post metal bed for Elton John, with the legs looking like palm trees.” He is also particularly proud of an armadillo-proof gate he made for well-known local Joe Fraser, who co-founded The Sea Pines Company with his brother, Charles Fraser.
Kevin relishes the process aspect of art, and says “art should be functional.” He was commissioned to build a memorial in honor of Dr. Jeff Garske. Dr. Garske was an orthopedic surgeon, father of two children and an avid bicyclist. He survived the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, however, he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver while cycling on the Cross Island Parkway on Hilton Head Island in 2016. The memorial, titled “Cycle,” which is a larger-than-life sized aluminum road bike with rider, can be seen in near the Coligny circle at the end of Pope Avenue on Hilton Head. Kevin suggested that it be mounted on a high pedestal. He notices little things and pays attention to everything.
Kevin says he likes to live by the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a valuable lesson for us all.
Kevin left me with his favorite quote, “You do art for your pocket and art for your head.” He told me that he never wanted to be a poor starving artist. He is currently crafting 1,000 metal stakes that will be used at the RBC Heritage Golf Tournament this year. He also specializes in making wine cellar gates and Iron Pig Smokers, which have cooked many a Lowcountry barbecue. This is the perfect example of functional art to keep from starving.
To be sure, Kevin Lawless has melded his talents into the heart of our community, and his many works will provide thought, joy and memories for years to come.