Be steel my art

A visit with Hamilton Dixon, steel sculptor

By Bill Franz

Photo: Hamilton Dixon’s handrails at the Dayton Art Institute

Hamilton Dixon has been working with metal his entire working life. His very first job was as a welder on an offshore oilrig. He decided he liked working with metal but he didn’t like life on an oilrig, so he went to forging school in New Mexico. Then he moved to Dayton where he has been a successful artist for the past 30 years.
I have visited Hamilton twice.  The first time I stopped by unannounced while he was working. More recently, I stopped by to see a finished piece called “Three O’Clock Prayer” just before it was installed at the University of Dayton as part of the renovation of the Immaculate Conception Chapel.  This is what the University wrote about the piece at the chapel rededication ceremony:

“Outside, in the St. Mary’s Courtyard, an extension of the sacred environment of the chapel, is a garden in recognition of all those who made the renovation possible. The sculpture by Dayton metal artist Hamilton Dixon is reminiscent of a timepiece set to the 3 o’clock hour. Etched in marble is the Three O’clock Prayer, a prayer of spiritual unity for Marianists around the world. The sculpture now also unites the hearts of all those who have contributed to the spiritual heart of campus.”

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“As time passes it will be even more interesting,” Hamilton explains. “Part of the structure is steel, which will weather with time.  Other parts are stainless steel which will remain unchanged.”

Hamilton walked me through his work process.  “My greatest joy comes at the beginning of the project—the design step. I love deciding how to make pieces of steel look like a flowing, organic thing.

“Next,” he continues, “after getting a customer to commit the money, I lay everything out on the floor life size. In several areas of the studio you can see marks on the floor from recent projects. The final and most time consuming step is to forge steel and hammer and bend it into the shapes I need. This is a physically demanding type of art. At the end of the day I’m tired.”

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Much of Hamilton’s work is in private collections, or in public spaces outside of Dayton. But there is a lot of his work in nearby public spaces. I suggested to Hamilton that he should put out maps to lead people on a “Hamilton Dixon Tour of Dayton.”

The tour could include the Dayton airport, the Dayton Art Institute, Park Drive in South Park, Serenity Pines at the University of Dayton, the weather vane at Delco Park, the Kettering City Building, the globe sculptures at Hospice of Dayton and many other places.

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Hamilton picked up his tools and returned to work. Soon he was too busy to pay attention to the photographer—my favorite situation.

To see more photos from Hamilton’s studio, and photos of other Dayton area artists, go to billfranz17.com. 

 

 

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Bill Franz retired from a business career and became a volunteer photographer doing projects for many local nonprofits.  His photos of people at work have been shown in art exhibitions across Ohio and neighboring states.  Find out more at billfranz17.com/about. 

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