Rusty And Ripe For Crafting
Damascus Man Crafting Art Out of Horseshoes, More
By JOE TENNIS | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | September 23, 2008*** This story was published Sept. 18, 2008, in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
DAMASCUS, Va. ? All he did was weld and have fun. Horseshoe by horseshoe. Yet, for years, Lassiter Hoyle didn't know what he was doing was art.
He designed metal pieces that could hang on your wall or barn or fence ? some two or three feet wide, using tossed-away tools and spare horseshoes. The older, the better. But the rustier? "Well, to a point," Hoyle, 87, said. "It tells a story."
'SORT THE HORSESHOES'
It all started, oh, about 50 years ago. People found Hoyle, and they just gave him old farm equipment ? lots of horseshoes ? from places like burned-out barns. Before long, Hoyle had tons of horseshoes and kept them as the supplies he needed to make his decorative art ? a series of welded pieces. Some measure as large as a garden gate.
But all these horseshoes, this Damascus man said, could also occupy his three children. "When the kids got mad," Hoyle explained. "I'd tell them to go out and sort the horseshoes."
Born in 1920 at Holmesville, Neb., Hoyle grew up working as a cowboy.
Four years ago, his family ? including a daughter, son-in-law and several grandchildren ? moved to the Damascus area from New Mexico. Also along is Alice Hoyle, Lassiter's wife of 51 years.
On the outskirts of Damascus, she shows off the couple's living room, loaded with what Lassiter has lassoed into their lives: horseshoes. Hundreds ? in a series of various designs ? are forged together on the back porch. You can also find them in the dining room table ? a hulking concoction made of dozens, perhaps hundreds of horseshoes. Actually, much of the living room contains a collection of odds and ends turned into art. Like seats from old farm implements.
"You have to have something besides horseshoes," Lassiter Hoyle said. And, yet, he won't use just anything.
Ranch irons? Yes.
Bed frame? No.
Old tools are in, but car parts are out.
Now, talk about being careful. "These pieces of metal, at 100 years old, are fragile," Hoyle said. "They will easily disintegrate. You can't have any mistakes."
'RED AND HIS IRON WORKS'
Alice calls Lassiter "Red." It's a fitting name for this gregarious man who simply loves the color of rust. Actually though, the nickname is a reference to Lassiter's long-ago hair color.
It's almost on cue: When he grins, she smiles. Clearly, Alice holds the rudder in this relationship.
Every few sentences, Lassiter turns the conversation away from how he makes his artistic masterpieces. He gleefully brags about his grandchildren, living next door ? how they're home-schooled and growing up without television ? and how, yes, the older boys are becoming "pretty good welders." Just like grandpa.
Hearing it all, Alice smiles again. Still, she's watching Lassiter's words, it seems, just as they come out of his mouth.
"This story is about Red and his iron works," she said.
Lassiter Hoyle's passion for welding ? and his hunger for horseshoes ? has become a consuming hobby. And, yet, Alice has nurtured Lassiter's interest. And she brags about it.
'DRAGGING THE GROUND'
All his shapes run the gamut: squares, rectangles, ovals, pentagons. And some of Hoyle's creations have Biblical messages, spelled out in horseshoes. "I look at things a lot deeper than some people," he said.
All in all, he figured he's used about 30,000 horseshoes to create his works.
"I love 'em," Hoyle said. "I always liked the smell of horses. I grew up on a farm in Nebraska."
Later working on ranches that spanned as much as 100,000 acres in places like California and Arizona, Hoyle retired as a cowboy in 1980.
All along, he continued to hunger for those horseshoes. "I tell people that he attracted them," Alice said with a warm look in her eyes. "People would tell him where they were. And he'd come back with a pickup [truck] load of horseshoes. The thing was almost dragging the ground."
Every day, Lassiter Hoyle trots out to his barn ? actually, it's a tool shed ? with a big "BLACKSMITHING" sign spelled out in horseshoes on an exterior wall. Carefully, though, he makes sure to note that he's a "welder" more than a "blacksmith." He is also a World War II veteran who served in the U.S. Navy. And briefly in the 1940s, he studied art at Santa Monica City College.
These days, Hoyle stays in the shed almost constantly ? or "too much," as Alice Hoyle says, smiling faintly.
Wearing a cowboy hat, Lassiter Hoyle demonstrates how he makes his designs, putting all parts down on a plywood workbench and then deciding how it should be forged together. "It really takes a lot of time designing," he said. "It doesn't take long to weld 'em."
Over the decades, Lassiter Hoyle has sold many designs. Some have fetched hundreds of dollars.
Still, it is clear that he loves having his art around him. It surrounds him, actually ? with dozens of designs hanging on the simple ranch fence that encircles the Damascus home he shares with Alice. Taking a stroll around that fence, for this old cowboy, must be like walking down memory lane. Yet here, there are more than just memories.
After all these years, Hoyle now too calls himself an "artist." "And I like rust," he said, smiling. "It's natural. It's the way the Lord made it. It's light brown. Then, it gets dark. It gives character."
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Cowboy art by Lassiter Hoyle: Call (276) 475-3775 for more information.