Tom Corbin Continued: Famed KC sculptor shapes decades of creativity into a work of art
By: Whitney Burke November 25, 2020
Like many in the entrepreneur community, nationally renowned sculptor and painter Tom Corbin didn’t truly embrace his calling until hitting a wall at his uninspiring day job.
“I was selling corrugated boxes, of all things, for a big corporation,” Corbin said of his first gig out of college — a “non-artful” diversion that nevertheless got him to Kansas City from his native Ohio in the late 1970s.
“I had one morning where I said ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and I took the summer off and bicycled from Durango, Colorado, to Canada and kind of rethought my approach to my next job,” he said. “I came back to Kansas City and I knew I wanted something more creative.”
Corbin initially didn’t think he could make a living in the world of art, so he settled on account management at an advertising and marketing agency — perfecting his fine pencil line drawing at night, he said.
More than three decades later, however, Corbin is responsible for some of the most iconic sculptures in Kansas City — from the statues of Ewing and Muriel Kauffman outside the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to the Firefighters Memorial Fountain at West 31st and Broadway. He’s expected to soon unveil a bronze sculpture of Northwest Missouri native and President Harry S. Truman — a project commissioned by the Truman Library Institute for installation at the U.S. Capitol in the National Statuary Hall Collection.
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Sculpting his talent
With a historic firehouse on Southwest Boulevard as the canvas for painting the story of his career, Corbin guides guests through his gallery — showcasing not just sculptures, but his wide range of creations. From furniture design to paintings, abstract to life-like depictions, the Corbin Firehouse is as much a showroom as a tribute to 30 years — and counting — in the business of art.
Click here to read more about Tom Corbin’s backstory and career.
“It really wasn’t choosing. The circumstances kind of gave it to me,” he said of his early focus on sculpting in bronze, which began after a friend broke her ankle and offered that he could take her spot in class with a “local sculptor.”
Spending a couple years shaping his talent, Corbin recognized the opening for sculptors in the art market was wider than for painters, and provided greater opportunities for a young artist.
“I liked the idea of sculpting — from a practical standpoint,” he said. “When you paint a painting, it is done and then you send it to the gallery and have to make another one. With sculpting, you have a mold after the first one and you will not have to fully start over, so you can have multiple galleries showing your work at the same time.”
Much of Corbin’s business developed through commissioned work, eventually expanding beyond sculptor-for-hire, into accessories, lighting and coffee and end tables.
Click here to explore Tom Corbin’s collections.
“Within five to six years, we went from one to 13 showrooms nationally,” he said. “We are also in the gallery side as well, and are up to 21 galleries and showrooms now.”
“These showrooms in L.A. and New York were how we started getting celebrity clients and into movies,” Corbin continued. “The movies are always fun.”
The first movie to “star” one of his pieces — a coffee table — was 1994’s “True Lies” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, he said.
“It was featured in a scene that took place in a gallery curator’s office, and as soon as it opened in Kansas City, I took my two employees and my wife to see the matinee,” Corbin recalled. “It was like watching your daughter at a dance recital and the scene came on and we were all like ‘There it is!’ and people were looking at us quite strangely.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the reveal for Corbin’s depiction of Truman in Washington D.C., but the project remains an opportunity to bring life to an often stoic and static way of honoring historic figures, he said.
“Each state is allowed to install two sculptures of two iconic people from their state [in the Capitol Rotunda in D.C.], and Missouri had been planning to replace one of theirs with Harry Truman,” Corbin explained. “Over the course of a few months we started researching and using the Truman Library archives and photographs to study Truman.”
“And after reading David McCullough’s book on Truman, we learned Truman was always out and meeting people and shaking hands, and we knew we wanted to draw some emotion out of this sculpture,” Corbin continued. “I wanted to communicate through his pose that he is a greeter. So in the sculpture it looks like he is walking down from somewhere to meet you.”
The sculpture’s unveiling is expected by early 2022.
A new coffee table book — his second, titled “Tom Corbin Continued” — spotlighting the artist’s work already has been released. It focuses on the past 13 years and primarily the Kansas City creations featured in the Corbin Firehouse, he said.
“My hair is a little greyer on this cover,” Corbin said. “I feel fortunate that I enjoy doing all of these different disciplines and styles and it continues to evolve and I think this book shows that.”
Click here to purchase “Tom Corbin Continued” or to explore his online store.