By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Peoria artist Roy Rogers has always loved creating things. While growing up, he was “the kid down the street who was always building something in the garage.” But as it is with many artists, life’s responsibilities kept him focused on work and family; studying and creating art had to stay in the background. When the opportunity to retire presented itself, he decided, “I’m going to retire and do what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.”
Roy was born and raised in Chicago. While he was in high school, his family moved to Peoria where he graduated from Spalding Institute. He initially thought the tool and die making trade would be a good fit and returned to Chicago to begin an apprenticeship. But, when he realized that it was hard to live on the salary of an apprentice, he moved back to Peoria to work at Caterpillar.
After a couple years at Caterpillar, Roy and his father went into business together. They launched R&B Rubber and Engineering, which later became Hawkeye Rubber Manufacturing Company. It proved to be a great opportunity for Roy to learn a wide variety of new tools and processes. As the shop manager, Roy learned to read blueprints and was involved with specifying, ordering, installing and operating all type of machining, pneumatic and hydraulic processes. Perhaps as important, he learned to think through problems and visualize solutions. “Even today when I make art pieces,” he said, “I visualize it in my head. 90 percent of the creative process is thinking about it.”
While working, Roy kept his passion for creating art. He completed an Associate’s degree in art at Illinois Central College and then went to Illinois State University where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in fine art. He started as a painter, but was eventually drawn to sculpture. Roy’s sculpture professor encouraged him, saying, “You have a talent for putting things together.” “Of course I could make things,” Roy laughed, “I had access to a machine shop.” When the ISU art department bought a new plasma cutter, Roy was able to help with its start-up as he already had experience with a similar machine at the rubber factory.
Tools are an important element in Roy’s art, and he enjoys taking tools from one medium and applying them to another. While taking a jewelry making class, he learned to use small tools to create fine details, and then adapted those same tools and techniques to working on larger scale sculptures in clay. Like a well organized machine shop, Roy’s home workshop is divided into small work areas, each one dedicated to a different medium, such as wood carving, clay and painting. With an assortment of the right tools in each area, Roy’s sculptures are only limited by his imagination. “Tools can do so much if you know how to use them,” he said.
Roy particularly enjoys the visualization and problem solving aspects of creating his art. When he’s alone, he likes to think through all of the variations and work out solutions. The ideas frequently come in the early morning during twilight sleep. “By the time I start a piece,” he said, “I know exactly how I’m going to do it, and the actual work takes a very short time.”
Roy intends to use his art to make you think. “I’m trying to get into what I can put together that keeps telling a story. That keeps asking questions and leaves you searching for more answers.” For Roy, it’s not enough to create a “pretty piece,” he wants it to have a deeper meaning. As he puts it, “I’m trying to express myself, but I can do it better in art.”
Roy couldn’t be happier with his encore career as an artist. “I knew that even if I never got anything out of it, at least I’d had it inside of me,” he said. “Right now, I feel like I did when I was 18 years old. I love it. If I don’t do anything else the rest of my life, I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something.”
For more information, visit Roy’s website at www.royrogersfinearts.com. You can also see Roy’s work in the Vernissage Art Exhibit at the Prairie Center of the Arts through November 16, and in the Peoria Riverfront Museum CIAO and Friends art exhibit through March 3, 2013.