By David Hamrick
GA: Leeth, let’s start with family, school, etc.- are you from Gastonia?
Leeth: Born and raised in Gastonia, I went to Gaston Day pre-k -12th, Then to Lees McRae for college. I studied art and design there. After college I moved to Portland OR for flight school. My wife and I lived there for about 5 years before moving back to Gastonia to start our family. I have an amazing wife, Emily and two beautiful children, Beckett and Josephine.
GA: I know your ”day job” is as a helicopter pilot-how did that come about?
Leeth: I work a 12/12 day schedule flying, so it’s a job, but not my “day job” I give each an equal amount of attention and pride. When im home on my 12 off I focus on my art and business, when im on the road on my 12 on, I focus on being a pilot. Gotta keep the balance ya know?
I knew from a young age that an office job was not going to suit me. I remember always wanting to fly helicopters, just not having a solid direction on how to make it a reality. (that was before google and the internet) While working as a volunteer fireman in Banner Elk while in college, I had the opportunity to work directly with the medical helicopter out of Johnson City, TN. After talking with one of the pilots there the fire was lit and I was on my way. The rest is history.
GA: Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman, or both?
Leeth: I’m always reluctant to call myself anything. I enjoy creating things that I am able to put my own style and expression into. Each process of the creation deserves attention and detail. The ride is as important as the destination. Enjoy the ride.
GA: How did you get started as an artist/craftsman?
Leeth: When I was 13 or so I started working for my dad in the family construction business. There was an old junk stick welder in the shop there that I taught myself to weld with. I started repairing equipment, building ramps for trailers, basic fabrication, things like that. After becoming interested in art in high school the two kind of came together. Since then I have tried to learn and apply as much as I can about creating things.
GA: Have any local artists been influential in your development?
Leeth: I was lucky enough, (although I wish I was mature enough to appreciate it more back then), to have Curt Butler as an art teacher in high school. He was and still is very supportive and motivating. The guy has forgotten more about art than Ill ever learn, but it’s nice to have him as a
friend and try to learn as much as he is willing to offer.
Chris Boone is a local Chef and owner/operator of Luna Hombre in Belmont. He was one of the first people to commission me to do work. I made him some custom tap handles and signs to display beer offerings in his restaurant. He has since commissioned several more pieces and has been super supportive along the way. The way he holds the quality and standards of his work in such high regard motivates me to do the same. There is a reason why you will never have a bad meal or experience there.
GA: What is your favorite media to work with?
Leeth: Metal, for sure. Wood is a close second.
GA: Tell us about an interesting upcoming project…
Leeth: I have a few exciting things in the works here. I am in the process now of making tap handles for York Chester Brewery’s distribution beers. If you haven’t tried their beer, do yourself a favor. I have a couple of large dining tables for client commissions in different stages of progress now. I should have them wrapped up by fall. I usually keep a sculpture or two going and just work on it (them) when I have the time. Not a whole lot of spare time here lately. Not a bad thing though.
GA: Do you accept commissions?
Leeth: Yes. That accounts for about 90% of my work. I like to create things for others based on their wishes and input while still being able to put my own style and detail into the piece. It’s a really fun process. Once I make something in that way, unless the same client wants another one, its done for good. I wont recreate commission pieces for others. Although I will create something in the same spirit if there is a piece in my portfolio that a client likes.
GA: Tell us about the wood and resin tap handles-how were they made?
Leeth: I was approached by York Chester about creating tap handles for them. They wanted something that would stand out and be unique without being obnoxious and big. I first ran the idea by them to use those materials and they were all for it. So it was a lot of trial and error to get to the point of a finished product that I was happy with. Once I came up with a process that worked, I made some molds, cast the ingredients in polyester resin, and had some nameplates cut out of stainless steel. I cut and polished the rough casting into the finished handle, installed the nameplate and a threaded insert on the bottom, and called it done.
GA: Tell us about the tree sculpture at Luna Hombre in Belmont?
Leeth: Chris asked me if I could make a piece that would replace a painting of his in his old restaurant The South Fork Deli. So the space that I had to work with was somewhat defined but a blank canvas nonetheless. He gave me 100% design freedom. That level of trust is pretty cool. For some reason that inspired me to make a tree out of old car and motorcycle parts. The body of the tree is old motorcycle chain with the links individually welded. The canopy is a hood from a ’68 Chevelle original paint and all. That was a really fun build.
GA: What advice would you give a young artist or craftsman?
Leeth: Just start. Learn as much as possible whenever possible. The process of creating and the journey that comes with it will take you cool places if you let it.
GA: How can folks get in touch with you to talk with you about a project or commission?
Leeth: Feel free to call or email if there is a project you would like to start. I would love to talk with you.