Working Without a Net

by Currie Alexander Powers

photo by Bob Schatz

One must suppose there is something addicting about high steel work, about spending hours above the world, suspended in air, defying gravity, your life given over to trust. To see form take shape beam upon beam, a skeleton developing skin, design becoming function. But after many years, Joe Sorci knew when it was time to come back down to earth.

Like a skydiver knows his number is bound to come up, Sorci knew gravity was reminding him of its power the day he stood on a thin beam and realized his legs were shaking. It had never happened before. Down on the ground once again, he counted his fingers and toes, counted himself lucky, and left the world of high steel.

By then, working with metal was in his blood. He started a pipe fitting business after college, sold it, and worked for another company brokering and supplying metal pipes for sewage- and water-treatment facilities. But the beauty of metal against a backdrop of sky never left him.

He found himself one day asking the question, “If I had to pick one thing I had to do the rest of my life what would it be?” He wanted to marry creativity with his love of metal and steel.

With his sculpture commissions ticking along, Sorci started painting, drawn to the Flemish method of applying paint over copper. “There’s something in back of the paint,” Sorci says. “I like the way the paint pushes and pulls on it.” Painting on copper also keeps him connected to his first love.

It is perhaps Sorci’s background working on large buildings that gave him the ability to see things without scale, to imagine something small being large, bending the possibilities of function, always just a step from nature. It is this ability that led Sorci to furniture design. Looking at his sublimely streamlined tables, graceful steel legs and frame holding a thick wood box, a beautiful blending of wood and metal, one sees exquisite design, furniture as sculpture. Yet Sorci wasn’t initially envisioning a table in a living room. He saw a platform for a house, raised off the ground, a way to protect homes built on flood plains. That encapsulates the heart and methodology of Sorci. Houses as tables, buildings as sculptures.

At 56, he is conscious of taking advantage of every minute. “That sweet spot in a career is when you’re eighty,” he says with a wry smile. “It’s always about the journey.” His has been manifold, a fine balance of labor and expression, the wilderness world and the corporate world. “The art is in creating,” he says. The simple act of welding a cannon ball found in the ground to a piece of metal is part skill and part inspiration, art suggested by the elements. Sorci makes his world a fugue of the organic and the intellectual.

“I prefer nature to any other setting for my sculpture. Creating shapes that stand out against sky,” he says. Always just a step away from the rush and pull of the wind, high above the world.

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