Tom Harold, BA’94, was both delighted and positively transfixed.
“It was George Rhoads’s rolling ball sculpture in the [Indianapolis] Children’s Museum,” he recalls. The kinetic piece, Science in Recess, featured motorized tracks, swooping billiard balls, and clanging gongs—and it inspired Harold to ditch his day job to pursue an outright obsession. How were these sculptures made? How did they work? And, most importantly: How could he make his own?
“When I started, I had to find authorities on the subject,” Harold says. “There were no how-to books or videos. I had to cast far afield to find these things.” Leaning on his journalism chops, he interviewed kinetic sculptors and took classes in metal arts and welding. He even worked as a shop welder.
Today, Harold is a full-time metal artist, selling his original rolling-ball sculptures worldwide for up to $10,000 for large installations or a few hundred dollars each for desktop-sized pieces. With their loops, jumps, teeter-totters, and the occasional motor to lift and drop marbles along hand-bent, arc-welded bits of stainless steel track, Harold’s creations can take several months to complete.
While he was originally influenced by George Rhoads—the “godfather of rolling-ball sculpture,” Harold maintains—he points to another George, who helped him get the ball rolling, so to speak. “George Rickey (DFA’74) is a very significant kinetic artist who attended and taught at IU many years ago,” he adds.
Like the kinetic giants he admires, Harold dreams big. His larger works reside in the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital and the Indianapolis Public Library. “At the Central Library, they’ve told me, ‘We have kids who come in every Sunday [just] to see it,’” Harold says. “‘It really fascinates people. It really gets their minds going.’ That’s just what [originally] happened to me!”
Someday, Harold hopes to go bigger still. “With a really large space, you can do things that you can’t in small spaces, just [due to] physics being what they are,” he explains.
This article was originally published in the Summer/Fall 2021 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine, a magazine for members of the IU Alumni Association. To view the current and past issues of the IUAM, visit MyIU.org.