Tomas Vrba and the Tomas Vrba Studio
Every day before he leaves his home in Everett, Tomas Vrba tells his two young children, “Daddy is going to play.” A professional large scale sculptor, Vrba makes his living carving tree stumps into things of beauty. He hopes his children follow their own dreams and realize that a conventional path in life isn’t a necessary rite of passage.
Raised in Slovakia, Vrba grew up a creative dreamer. Surrounded by a rich heritage of wood carving, Vrba set his sights on art. His parents recognized his potential and encouraged Vrba to attend an art school apprenticeship program. He went on to earn a master’s in sculpture Restoration from VSVU Bratislava, a highly competitive program where only four students are enrolled each year, he said.
Vrba worked as an art restorer after completing his education. The job served as an extension of his training. He worked with numerous stone and wood sculptures, various tools, and learned to replicate the strokes of renowned artists. But Vrba eventually felt stifled by the repetition. “Even when working on beautiful pieces, they eventually blur into the process,” he said. Restorers have to work in the shadow of the original artist. “You’re never yourself,” he said. “You’re always someone else.” It was time for Vrba to create his own sculptures.
Vrba met his eventual wife, Allison, on a trip to Berlin. In 2006 the newlyweds moved to Allison’s neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest, and opened the Tomas Vrba Studio. Since moving to the U.S., Vrba has created sculptures for public areas, private homes, and corporations, in addition to competing in and winning numerous wood-carving competitions. He’s taken up wielding a chainsaw in true PNW fashion, which he describes as akin to using a pencil for sketching. “The connection between your hand and the idea is immediate,” he said. Using a chisel and hammer makes the process slower. The artist has more time to consider the developing lines and shapes. Both tools have their use in the creation of a sculpture.
When I visited Vrba, he was working on a freestanding wood carving for a private residence, featuring sea lions chasing salmon. He likes how sculptures on people’s properties help bring their communities together. People who otherwise wouldn’t speak to one another are suddenly standing on their lawns chatting, first about the sculpture, then about their lives.
Vrba draws inspiration from “nature, life, moving, living, giving birth, dying, the entire process of life.” He said an artist must “force the idea into the material…you have to have an idea of what you want to do.” To prepare for the sea lion piece, Vrba studied the animal’s anatomy and movement. By being prepared, he’s more accepting when a cut goes astray, explaining that there is never a mistake. “You can always adjust,” he said. It all becomes part of a new design.
In the future, Vrba hopes to open a sculpture gallery and invite artists to create in the space. His wife, a writer, could host writing retreats at the same time, setting the stage for an artistic event where written and 3-D art collide. The creatives can influence one another while guests can witness the creative process in action. The space would “create a brewing of mediums and ideas, where locals can come and see the process.” The process is vital to the final product, he said. It’s what’s behind the art.
Tomas Vrba 206.227.6647 | tomasvrba.com