“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” -Edith Wharton
Artist Ben McCarley is a mirror and a candle. If you look at his art, you might see gauges, valves, and pipes culminating in creative and stylized industrial lamps -each unique and one of a kind. That’s the candle. But Ben is also a mirror.
The story of his art actually starts with Derek Trouard. Derek and Ben were coworkers and worked together as industrial pipe fitters. Derek was very much a mentor to Ben. A pipefitter is someone who installs, assembles, fabricates, and maintains piping systems. It is a trade where you usually begin as a helper or an apprentice. Initially, they were just coworkers, with Ben being an apprentice to Derek. Derek taught Ben lessons about his trade and how to grow his self-confidence. Over time, they became best friends. Ben and Derek worked together for 3.5 years. It’s fair to say that Ben became a part of the Trouard family.
While working together one day, Derek showed Ben a photo of a piece of art that he created, a photo of an artistic industrial style lamp. Derek created the lamp because he and his wife, Sarah, saw a similar piece in a store window in Chicago. His wife wanted it and Derek said, “Hell, I can make that.” And that’s what he did.
Derek was the original artist and created a few lamps. Some he sold, but mostly he gave them away. His art was made from pipes, used gauges, valves, everything a pipe fitter could get his hands on that fit the industrial feel of his style of art. Ben wanted to create these lamps as well, but just never did so because that was Derek’s art.
Tragedy struck the Trouard family in March of 2016, when Derek was killed in a work related accident. Devastated and loyal, Ben did what any best friend would do, he helped Derek’s family. Part of any grieving process involves slowly and painfully sorting through the things of your lost loved one and deciding what you want to keep and the things you need to get rid of. Derek’s art supplies were just something that Sarah couldn’t keep. As Ben was helping Sarah move, she made him an offer. She told Ben, “You can take his supplies, but if you are going to take them, you have to take all of it.”
Of course, Sarah didn’t know that Ben had been wanting the supplies. Ben had also been strongly thinking about creating the lamps himself. He had thought about it since Derek had shown him the first one. But Ben needed permission. Ben needed Sarah to be alright with it. Once she gave him the supplies, he had her permission.
“I needed her to be ok with it. I wanted to honor him but she had to be ok with it,” Ben says when reflecting on starting his art. Ultimately, Ben’s art requires a huge self imposed responsibility. It’s not just his art, but Derek’s legacy.
“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.”-Ben Sweetland
Benjamin carries the torch of Derek’s legacy, but also draws inspiration from other sources. To be sure, inspiration begins with the memory of his friend and the quest to honor him. Ben also spends a lot of time researching different techniques from the internet and how others create their art. He is a self-taught artist. He has been creating since March of 2016, so he would tell you that it’s a learning process and his art is a labor of love.
Perhaps most importantly, he draws inspiration from the world around him. The plant he works in, the heavy pipes, and the ways things fit together and the possibility of how they might fit together. Don’t be mistaken, while Ben makes lamps inspired by Derek, his art has evolved and has its own distinct mark.
“Every time I see one of Ben’s pieces, I can’t help but get very emotional. I see Derek and I see Ben. Even on my worst days, when I reach to turn on one of those lamps, I can’t help but smile. I smile at the beauty of the creativity, the design, and the craftsmanship. I am mostly smiling though because I see light and a legacy of great love.”
Today two lamps sit in the Trouard house. The first is one of Derek’s original pieces, which lives in his son’s bedroom. The other is a memorial piece made by Ben. Ben’s lamp lives on Derek’s spot on the porch, Derek’s favorite spot. Both pieces of art spread light in the Trouard’s lives. Ben’s lamp, filled with a legacy of great love, is both a candle and the mirror.