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Personal expression: A home tour reveals 'the world of Nawrocki'

 

Tom Nawrocki points out a feature in the turret room of his Columbus home Wednesday. He is surrounded by art deco sculptural lamps he made using parts of vintage smoke stands and classic car hood ornaments. On the wall hangs a series of duratrans light boxes the Mississippi University for Women professor emeritus made.

Tom Nawrocki points out a feature in the turret room of his Columbus home Wednesday. He is surrounded by art deco sculptural lamps he made using parts of vintage smoke stands and classic car hood ornaments. On the wall hangs a series of duratrans light boxes the Mississippi University for Women professor emeritus made. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

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A series of art deco table lamps made by Tom Nawrocki boast vintage hood ornaments. He also made the stained glass window. The shelves hold some of the thousands of classic films and serials the artist has collected.

A series of art deco table lamps made by Tom Nawrocki boast vintage hood ornaments. He also made the stained glass window. The shelves hold some of the thousands of classic films and serials the artist has collected.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Tom Nawrocki’s

Tom Nawrocki’s "head lights" flank an art deco lamp he made. The "head lights" are crafted using wig stands he sandblasted, wired and built bases for. Photographs on the wall are of Susan and Tom Nawrocki in earlier times.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch staff

 

Tom Nawrocki steps inside his

Tom Nawrocki steps inside his "meditation chamber," a ceiling-to-floor circular fiber art hanging he made. With him are his daughter, Selena Nawrocki, and wife, Susan Nawrocki. The Nawrockis' son, Steffan, is director of translational medical oncology at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Tom Nawrocki uses the working 1930s rotary telephone in his home Wednesday. He is surrounded by several art deco lamps he made and one of the neon clocks in his collection. He also decorated the photo frames on the wall to reflect an art deco motif.

Tom Nawrocki uses the working 1930s rotary telephone in his home Wednesday. He is surrounded by several art deco lamps he made and one of the neon clocks in his collection. He also decorated the photo frames on the wall to reflect an art deco motif.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Tom Nawrocki makes a slight adjustment to an art deco lamps topped with

Tom Nawrocki makes a slight adjustment to an art deco lamps topped with "Saturn," a symbol of the 1939 New York World's Fair and its "world of tomorrow" theme.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Tom Nawrocki stands next to stacks of prints and artwork stored carefully between blankets and in drawers in his studio at home. His wife, Susan Nawrocki, is also pictured.

Tom Nawrocki stands next to stacks of prints and artwork stored carefully between blankets and in drawers in his studio at home. His wife, Susan Nawrocki, is also pictured.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Art deco was on my mind as I arranged a visit to Tom Nawrocki's home in eastern Lowndes County. I'd learned he had more than 100 art deco-style lamps he'd made with his own hands. The Mississippi University for Women professor emeritus of art is already widely known for his print-making, fiber art and, most recently, a unique mixed-media series. But there are aspects to this artist that many have never had an opportunity to see.  

 

Inside the house -- which has a turret -- it soon became apparent that focusing only on lamps was to deny the larger-than-life whole they are part of. The home interior is a visual immersion, a multi-layered testament to creative energy.  

 

Nawrocki's art deco lamps are indeed impressive. Many are illuminated pedestal lamps, crafted from parts of vintage smoke stands and topped with 1930s and 1940s car hood ornaments. Others are tabletop lamps. Tom wired each one himself. 

 

But there is also the handcrafted furniture with stained glass inserts, ceiling-to-floor fiber "space hangings," a collection of 1930s-1940s neon clocks, the working 1930s rotary phone and Wurlitzer Bubbler juke box, a turret hideaway and meditation chamber.  

 

"I call the house the ninth wonder of the world," Tom says with a touch of playfulness. The eighth, he says, is the 1933 "King Kong" movie starring Fay Wray. But more about vintage films later. 

 

 

 

Overview 

 

Every room in the Nawrocki home is infused with Tom's imaginative, precise craftsmanship. And not only his: Tom's wife, Susan, is a gifted artist as well. Their daughter, Selena, is a professor of art and interior design at Valdosta State University in Georgia. Their combined work has been widely exhibited and garnered numerous awards. Tom is proud to have been selected to exhibit in more than 500 shows worldwide. 

 

It should come as no surprise that the art deco style, prevalent throughout the house, appeals to him. It embodies edge, form, balance and symmetry, elements he often employs in his own work.  

 

"Art deco was purely decorative, and it started in 1925 in Paris, France, and extended to 1939 and was destroyed as the Nazis took over," Tom explains.  

 

The art deco movement takes its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs held in Paris in 1925 and influenced architecture, fashion and the design of everything from ocean liners to radios. As the Great Depression took its toll in the 1930s, art deco style became more subdued, more streamlined, with curving forms and smooth, polished surfaces. Tom is well-versed in the history, and generous about sharing it. 

 

 

 

Silver screen 

 

The artist leads the way up a steep set of stairs to the turret room. The round retreat is signature Tom -- art deco lamps, eight duratrans light boxes he created and a vintage piece of furniture he treasures -- an upholstered bench from the old Warner movie theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Tom grew up. This two-seater with chrome piping and tootsie roll arms was given to young Tom by an uncle who worked there. Which brings up another Nawrocki passion. 

 

"I have a keen interest in vintage films," Tom says. "My dad took me to see the 1948 re-release of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' starring Errol Flynn at the Ogden Theater in Milwaukee. My whole family used to gather at my grandmother's house and watch home movies and vintage films like 'Laurel and Hardy' and other silent films."  

 

It all inspired his love for the craft. 

 

"I became a collector and, as you can see, it turned into a monster," Tom laughs. 

 

He refers to thousands of films neatly housed at the Nawrocki home. During his 40-plus year career at The W, the art professor headed a cinema guild and screened 16 millimeter films and serials for groups of students at the house, to acquaint them with silent and early sound pictures. Halloween always provided an opportunity to showcase favorite actors, like Bela Lugosi. Tom keeps a framed photograph of the famous Count Dracula in the turret room. 

 

 

 

Working space 

 

The tour moves outside, to "the porch." It's actually an enclosed conversation area showcasing more art deco lamps, neon clocks and vintage movie posters. The porch leads to the studio and workshop, both organized with precision. Two enormous tubular fiber art works hang from the studio ceiling, one thick and vibrant red, the other a lighter-weight, multi-colored circular cascade. This one Tom calls his meditation chamber. 

 

"I just sit on the floor in here Indian-style, and the ideas just come to you," he smiles. 

 

An illuminated art deco wall decoration reads "Nawrocki." It originally read "Telephone" and was attached to an old phone booth. Tom and Susan came across it at a trash-to-treasures market. 

 

"I asked him what he wanted with that piece of junk," Susan says. It wasn't the first time she watched her husband turn a "piece of junk" into a piece of art. 

 

Artists embody heart and soul to express ideas. Tom also has practical woodworking and precision machining skills at his disposal. He credits Fernwood Elementary School in Wisconsin, where he began learning woodworking, drafting and even electrical basics at a young age. 

 

"It was another time; they weren't expecting people to go to college," he says.  

 

He did go to college, of course, and went on to influence a realm of young artists for years to come. Many have been fortunate enough to glimpse the extravagantly creative Tom Nawrocki his home reveals. One is stained glass artisan Jane Crawford of Columbus. She was his student in the 1990s and, later, provided stained glass used in many of Tom's projects, furniture in particular. 

 

"When I went in their house, I was blown away by his talent," she says. "And when I went up into the turret room, I could not believe it." 

 

She remembers an instructor who was exacting, but fair. He has always been an explorer as well. 

 

" ... I was always seeking something innovative, that no one else was doing," Tom says.

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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