The First Half of a Westward Adventure

Last week my family and I flew from Florida to Arizona to de-install Lift, and have ourselves a little family vacation out west.  The first half of our travels were dedicated to boxing up and shipping the installation.

This sculpture was the first time I’d shown work this large, and I did it an awfully long way from Gainesville, FL. To say the very least I learned a lot, and in this particular  chapter of the whole experience I learned to crate and ship a large piece across the country on a budget.

In February I’d driven Lift all the way to Scottsdale, Arizona on my trailer. It was padded and mounted to some rough frames and tied down tight for the ride.

For this go around I’d decided to fly to Phoenix and have Lift freight shipped back to Florida.  After the epic drive in February I looked closely at the costs of transportation and found freight shipping to be in line with, if not cheaper than hauling the piece across the country myself.  Because I had not crated or boxed the piece for delivery the first time I would need to build the boxes for the piece in Arizona before I could ship it back home.

Here’s how it went.

Lift adventure01

Lift Adventure03That’s my Dad- John Tharp. Dad’s  a General Contractor and holds several patents in the hydroelectric energy field, so I was pretty grateful when he said he’d come along and lend a hand building these boxes.

Camera 360

Camera 360That’s my Mom- Sandy Tharp. She’s always up for an adventure and was a huge help on this trip.

Camera 360This is Daniel Funkhouser. He’s the Collections and Exhibitions Assistant at the Scottsdale Public Art Program and also the painter of the awesome clouds on the giant wall behind Lift.

Camera 360I was really  grateful to have been chosen to exhibit in this space and I’m looking forward to seeing who the Scottsdale Public Art Program will bring in next!

Camera 360


  DSC_2129Our first step was to remove all the woven benches so we could bring the scissor lift in to remove the balloons with.


Camera 360Once the balloons were on the ground we disconnected all the aluminum hoops from the stainless steel cable and stacked them in the wood shop.

Camera 360Once all our materials were inside we could get out of the 110 degree heat and get to work in the nice cool air conditioning!! Yes- this was a very important part of the process, and worth mentioning.

Camera 360Now for the game plan.

DSC_2185We built a wooden “exoskeleton” for each crate. The balloons were placed on big sheets of cardboard and zip-tied down. The cardboard was then layered and everything was sandwiched together with the wooden exoskeleton.

DSC_2189See, just like a sandwich.

Camera 360The baskets were bolted to wooden bases so they wouldn’t roll around. We were able to acquire a prebuilt 5′ x 5′ pallet to attach the baskets to.

0813141346aWe padded the baskets with more cardboard and plastic wrap and then build a wooden frame around the pallet and sheeted it with cardboard for some level of protection. We had extra space inside the crate and were able to include the hardware from installation, along with all the stainless steel cables and some other scrap materials.

0813141353I checked rates with several freight shipping companies and booked one for pickup the next day. Once the truck arrived we had some help using the fork lift to load the crates.

0813141350Everything went smoothly and the truck should be arriving this week in Gainesville to deliver the pieces. Fingers crossed they look the same as they did when we saw them last!

0809141412aTime for some sight seeing! I’ll tell you where we went in my next post!


Traditional Blacksmithing with Juan Holbrook

This summer has been full of learning! Because the shop hasn’t been packed full of giant projects I’ve been able to dabble in new techniques and teach lots of  workshops to others, but I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from a fellow smith who’s been in the game much longer than me.

Meet Juan Holbrook. Juan is a blacksmith who got his start in Chile as a young man. He specializes in traditional joinery and has a gorgeous home full of hand-forged furniture and decorations that showcase his passion for ornate scroll work, collared connections, and mortise and tenons joinery.

Juan has invited me to spend a couple afternoons in his shop, here in Gainesville, and learn some of these techniques.  Thumbs up! AND I’m going to let you in on a secret: Juan has an air conditioned shop! Double thumbs up!

Lesson #1 Collaring.  I didn’t snag pictures from that session but snapped a pic of our practice piece (a nice bundle of forged prairie grass I had laying around in the shop).


Lesson #2 Mortise and Tenon Joinery.  Scroll down and check out the process.


Juan lit up his coal forge and we got to work!


For this project we were working with 1/2″ solid square bar.

We punched a hole in the bar with this chisel.


Then we opened up the hole by passing this drift through the chiseled opening.

(sorry, no pictures of this step)


Once the Mortise was ready we moved on to the Tenon.

First step was to make a sharp shoulder on the square bar where the tenon would begin.


With the shoulder identified we were able to draw out the tenon to the right thickness.


This tool helped us sharpen up that shoulder we had set in the beginning.




Now it was time to connect the pieces!

Juan used a right angle to clamp everything together.

Then he heated up the end of the tenon with a torch and hammered it down like a rivet head.


The end product is a really handsome connection!

Don’t you think?


Special Workshop Offers

From July 7th – 20th enjoy some special savings!  

Sign up for a blacksmithing workshop with a friend for only $45 each!


Attend an aluminum etching workshop this Saturday at
Bead All About It and receive $5 off your $48 registration!

email LeslieTharpDesigns@gmail.com to redeem this offer


Join us for a Blacksmithing Workshop:

Friday, July 11th, 6:30-9pm – Bike Hangers

Saturday, July 12th, 9-11:30am - Fire Poker and Rakes

Sunday, July 13th, 9-11:30am - Plant Hangers

More details and the full calendar available at LeslieTharp.com

Don’t forget, family workshops are available throughout the week upon special request. Mom, Dad, and the kids are welcome. Email for details!

Want to take a workshop, but have a special project in mind?
Email Leslie to request a special workshop topic!

Sign up for this week’s Aluminum Etching Workshop:

Saturday, July 12th, 2 – 4pm at Bead All About It

Learn to etch aluminum jewelry using an acid/ resist technique. Create multiple light-weight and stunning matching jewelry sets or individual pieces!

Want to have the girls over and host your own aluminum etching party?
Book your home jewelry making party and have Leslie bring the workshop to you!

More details are available at LeslieTharp.com

Attend a free Art Lab demo!

Aluminum Casting Demonstration
with local artist Lexi Braun

Tuesday, July 8th from 7-9pm

Visit GainesvilleArtLab.org for all the details!


Suggest Lift’s Next Location

Lift has been on exhibition in Scottsdale, Arizona for nearly 5 months and it feels like no time at all!


The exhibition wraps up in early August and Lift will be relocated to a new city, so be sure to drop by and visit the piece at 7373 E Scottsdale Mall while you still can!


If you’re a fan of lift living outside of Scottsdale, where do you want to see Lift shown next?


Leave your suggestions in the comments below!


Here’s a post I made for Reddit with lots of lovely process images of  Lift . Check it out and vote it up!


My name is Leslie Tharp

My name is Leslie Tharp

I make metal sculptures.

Here I am working on a deer sculpture.

And here I am again working on my latest project Lift.

Lift is a HUGE hot air balloon inspired metal installation.

Check out how I made it. I learned to weave mild steel to create big steel baskets that sit below each huge balloon.

The weave pattern is the same pattern used to weave actual hot air balloon baskets. Of course those aren’t made of metal..

You can see a short stop animation of the weaving process here.

When the baskets were finished I attached handles and coiled steel seats on top so they became public benches, stationed below each suspended balloon.

The metal was powdercoated this silky copper color to protect the steel from rusting.

Don’t they look comfy? They are.

Each basket has a suspended balloon sculpture hanging above it.

The balloons are made from aluminum hoops.

I designed the balloons to be collapsible so they can be easily transported city to city.

Look at this YouTube video of my hoisting the balloon for the first time in my backyard.

The balloons were powdercoated a bright coral pink (powdercoating is sort of like paint, but baked on).

The largest balloon is 9 feet tall.

Lift is currently being shown in Scottsdale, Arizona but will be moved to a new location in August.

Where do you think Lift should go next?

Leave your comments below and visit LeslieTharp.com to see more!

And watch the original Kickstarter video here.


Make your own Etched Aluminum Jewelry!

Now introducing……

Etched Jewelry Workshops!


Make your own aluminum pendant and earring set using this unique etching process!

These fun jewelry making workshops will be held at Bead All About It located in the Thornbrook Village and taught by Leslie Tharp.

Workshops last approximately 2 hours
Price to sign up is $48 per person.
All materials are provided.
You will have the opportunity to make one pendant necklace and earring set.
Class size is limited to 8 people.

June Workshops

Thursday, June 12th from 6-8pm

Saturday, June 21st from 2-4pm

Wednesday, June 25th from 6-8pm

Reserve your spot by emailing LeslieTharpDesigns@gmail.com


Leslie is available to teach private workshops for groups of 6 or more. Contact her to learn more.


Father’s Day Specials

Say Happy Father’s Day with hand-forged gifts!

Check out my hand forged selection of accessories and home decor on Etsy.
The shop is bursting with handsome and handy gifts for dad this year!

My newest listing is Father’s Day inspired- this Father’s Day Gift combo includes a hand-forged Pencil Holder and Keychain Bottle Opener for only $35 and FREE 3 day shipping anywhere in the U.S. This rustic combo is sure to make dad smile, whether during workday hours or after.

Visit LeslieTharpDesigns on Etsy to find more great gift ideas for dad and use coupon code LOVEDAD14 to receive 10% off store-wide until 6/15/14.

Blacksmithing Workshops have been extended into June!
Special group rates and scheduling are available!
Learn more here and email LeslieTharpDesigns@gmail.com to schedule your session!

Sign up with Dad for Father’s Day
Sign up with Dad and schedule your workshop before June 15th and pay $90 for two participants ($10 off reg. price). All your materials and safety gear are provided. You and dad choose what you’d like to make and take it home at the end of the workshop!

If you are a dad you can sign up and take advantage of this special Father’s Day price! Bring your partner or pal. All dads welcome!

Click here and scroll to bottom to sign up with Dad!

Just in case you’re planning a trip to Arizona this summer…
you can check out Lift!

The Belle Art exhibition has been extended until August in Scottsdale, Arizona!

Swing by 7373 E Scottsdale Mall
and enjoy Lift while it’s there!


This Week’s Blacksmithing Classes


This is a fun week in the shop with lots of blacksmithing workshops being offered!

Sign up individually for $55 or with a friend for $100. If you sign up as a group of 4 you can choose your own time and workshop topic. Exciting!

Visit LeslieTharp.com to read more about the workshops and email me at LeslieTharpDesigns@gmail.com to ask questions and reserve your space in a class!



Hooks 1

Wednesday, May 21st

Wall Hooks


space available!

sign up here





Friday, May 23rd

Plant Hangers


limited space available!

sign up here


bottle openers2



Sunday, May 25th

Bottle Openers


space available!

sign up here


Wire Works – Free Workshop Happening Tonight!

Out of the Woods by Leslie Tharp

Out of the Woods by Leslie Tharp

Join me tonight for this hands on workshop in collaboration with Creative for Health and Art Lab.

This workshop is funding through a grant from the LIVESTRONG foundation and is free to attend.

Wire Works will be a hands-on wire sculpting workshop exploring the nature of line in space. Leslie Tharp’s work often incorporates organically moving metal line-work, bending, branching, and colliding to form complex and large sculptures that take on new shapes and forms when viewed from different angles.

Join us for this fun and creative workshop. Sculpting in wire is an opportunity to lift thoughts and drawings off the pages of your sketchbook and place them in space, where they can grow in form and complexity and become a finished artwork or possibly a maquette for a larger sculpture! Leslie will discuss her approach to sculpting with metal and then open the floor for a relaxed and creative session of wire sculpting with the group. Everyone is welcome to explore sculpting with wire and supplies such will be provided. Bring your sketchbooks!

Creative for Health is funded by a grant from the LIVESTRONG Foundation and provide weekly arts and writing workshops for people affected by cancer, including patients, survivors and caregivers. Participants enjoy painting, sculpting, writing, dancing, and singing in a fun and supportive environment. The workshops are FREE and open to the public. Walk-ins welcome.


When: Tonight (Tuesday) from 7-9pm

Where:  Shands Cancer Hospital & Medical Center, Criser Cancer Resource Center, RM 1302
1515 SW Archer Rd
Gainesville, FL 32608

View Map

Parking is free in the South Tower parking garage located near the Cancer Hospital on SW 13th street.  Blue Gil is on the first level of that building.


Aerial – A New Collection Release

Announcing the first in my new collection Aerial.

My new collection of hot air balloon inspired forged and etched aluminum pendants has just been released to my Etsy Shop!


Inspired by Lift and created first for my very special Kickstarter backers, this unique collection of etched aluminum pendants are the latest line of work to come out of my shop!

I’m really excited to share this collection with you because it bridges the gap between the hot air balloon imagery I have been exploring as I created Lift and the smaller, more intimate work I love to create and share with you.

These pendants were made by forging  aluminum bars (the same aluminum used to create the balloons in Lift).  I then sand one side of the forged medallion smooth, while the other side is left showing the hammer marks. The smooth side is then painted and etched to reveal a hot air balloon design. When you run your finger across these pendants you can feel the raised and lowered metal surfaces. The color of the pendant is the color the aluminum turns when etched. I clean the metal and seal it with a clear coat to preserve the shiny surfaces.

Visit my Etsy Shop!






Sean Deckert’s photographs of Lift

The Scottsdale Public Art Program has added a touch of playful whimsy to the bell tower by painting clouds on the wall behind Lift.

Photographer, Sean Deckert, has captured the scene with these gorgeous photographs.


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