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From Scrap to Sculpture

How One Local Artist Upcycles Salvaged Metal

Some artists draw inspiration from nature or music, but self-described “metal-morphosist” Kris Nethercutt finds his muse in scrap metal. From castoff tractor seats and animal traps to rusted fenders and exhaust pipes, everything has the potential to be transformed into a whimsical sculpture when Nethercutt gets ahold of it. “If [a piece of metal] is an interesting shape, I save it
until I see something in it,” he says.

Thanks to that creative eye, Nethercutt has amassed an impressive collection of junk metal to work with, including 26,000 pounds of remnants from Union Station’s train shed that was torn down in 2000. He bought the scraps from the Tennessee Preservation Trust and even has a letter of authenticity to prove their historic value. Nethercutt has fashioned all sorts of conversation pieces, such as one-of-a-kind lamps and tables, from the shed’s remains.

His workshop is tucked in a quiet neighborhood behind the Williamson County Administrative Complex. You can’t miss his place—a buzzard made from a gas tank is perched on the mailbox, and a scrap-metal cannon sits in the yard. A gravel drive leads to the back of the house where you’ll find Nethercutt’s headquarters. The tin-roofed shed may look inauspicious, but it’s actually the birthplace of several Williamson County landmarks.

Perhaps the most notable of those icons is “Rusty Mechanism,” the 20-foot-tall, metal man outside of The Factory at Franklin, an industrial complex that’s been transformed into a shopping and dining destination. Nethercutt spent six years crafting Rusty from old machine parts that were pulled from the depression-era buildings during renovations. He even engineered Rusty to have an interactive component—if you turn the left thumb, the massive head moves side-to-side. Officially titled “Clocking Out,” the sculpture represents a factory worker who is leaving his job for the last time. “He’s a tribute to American industry, a way of life that’s a part of our heritage,” Nethercutt says.

His latest project is another 20-foot-tall masterpiece, but instead of a factory worker, it’s a farmer in overalls and a straw hat. The ears are formed from two halves of a tractor seat, the mustache and hair are the tines of a rake, and the overall buttons are radiator caps. Sheet metal and other salvaged bits comprise the rest of the body.

The former chairman of Dollar General, Cal Turner, Jr., commissioned the sculpture in honor of his grandfather, Luther, who was a farmer. When Turner’s assistant called with the proposition, Nethercutt agreed without a moment’s hesitation. “I told him I’d been waiting for the phone to ring for thirteen years,” he says with a chuckle. “Yeah, I’ll do another one.” This summer, Luther will be installed next to Turner’s pavilion in Brentwood at the site where his old barn fell down in a storm.

Rusty and Luther may be the largest of Nethercutt’s creations, but he’s left his mark all over town in other significant ways. The Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County hired him to recreate a jail cell for tours in the basement of the Old, Old Jail, and upstairs, he installed two sliding doors made from weathered sheet metal. Nethercutt’s handiwork can also be seen at St. Andrew Lutheran Church on Murfreesboro Road. He built the massive, stainless-steel cross in the belltower, as well as the aluminum frame for the cross in the sanctuary. 

Travel a bit farther north on Murfreesboro Road, and you’ll find yet another Nethercutt invention—a bicycle fence with riders made of mufflers. This structure is a traveling art exhibit of sorts, making its way from Nethercutt’s yard to Leiper’s Fork, O’More College of Design, and now, the property next to Pinkerton Park.

Nethercutt says his love of metalworking began at the age of 15 when he moved to Franklin from Indiana and took a welding class at Yates Vocation School. “Most of the guys were just goofing off and having fun. But I was the new kid. They weren’t my buddies. I had nothing better to do than to sit down and learn.” He went on to work as a welder and machinist at the former CPS Industries in Franklin and John Bouchard & Sons in Nashville. After 13 years in the industry, he struck out on his own in 1998 and established his business, K.A.L. Metal Products.

His bread-and-butter is wrought-iron curtain rods and other decorative items, but lucky for us, he’s been able to create his eclectic sculptures on the side. Thanks to Nethercutt’s talent and ingenuity, Franklin has a bit more art and a lot less junk. A pretty fair trade, don’t you think?

To find out more about Nethercutt’s services, call 615-790-4929 or visit his workshop at 408 South Petway Street.

  • Kris with his latest sculpture, Luther