Bill Sorich always knew he would grow up to be an artist. He gestures toward the metal odds and ends piled neatly along forested pathways at the edge of his driveway in Palo Alto. “This is my little gold mine of good stuff,” he says with a grin. “I’m one of those guys who doesn’t waste anything,” The sight of rusting fire hydrants and metal rods reclaimed from old buildings may not appeal to everyone, but these are the raw materials from which Sorich, a blacksmith by trade, fashions his metal art creations. He fell in love with blacksmithing at age 7 when his father took him on a tour through the now-defunct Bethlehem Steel plant in South San Francisco. The boy couldn’t take his eyes from the bright orange glow of the open hearth furnaces and the red hot bars of steel being rolled into shape.
“I said, `That’s what I want to do when I grow up — I want to play with fire”.
Sorich’s passion for practicality extends to his life. He installed solar panels on his roof in 1980, long before it was fashionable, and has since added a 73-foot wind tower. He powers all of his machines with renewable energy and has been “off the grid” since the home was built.
said Sorich: “Who wants to listen to a generator?” In the same way, he hoped his art would be useful to people in addition to bringing them pleasure.
“It’s not about the money. You want to do something that will still be there when the dust clears.”
Sorich has spent more than 30 years making decorative and functional art objects out of steel, copper and cast iron for local clients. He has lived and worked on his rambling 65-acre property in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 1976.
Since turning to his art full time after an early career at Westinghouse, Sorich’s elaborate sculpted metal gates, giant dragonflies and bronze owls have decorated homes and businesses across the Peninsula.
Sorich’s whimsical creations also surround his home. Two human-scale “watch buzzards” guard the front door wearing dark sunglasses. Bright sprigs of cast-iron flowers pop up from between rocks or cactus clusters.
A fat owl with shiny stainless steel feathers stands sentry at a balcony corner overlooking the driveway. Nearby stands a bald eagle whose tall frame is derived from an oxygen tank.
Most of Sorich’s work is done on commission, either as individual pieces or for an entire house. He said some of his quirkier pieces don’t always appeal to everyone.
“You’ve got to just know what you want,” said Sorich, 59, in his jeans and hiking boots; fingernails bruised from creating his sculptures. “People who know what they want are people who aren’t afraid of having their friends laugh at them.”
Among Sorich’s strangest creations are his larger-than-life barbecues, the grills camouflaged inside the sculpted bodies of animals. A gleaming armadillo barbecue, one of Sorich’s finest achievements, took him 10 years to create because he couldn’t figure out how to construct the curved, knobby shell out of a single piece of stainless steel. Then, one night, he dreamt of a solution: Cut a steel sheet into flattened squares resembling the scales of an armadillo and weld the barbecue frame to that. Its tail, made of thick steel segments forged together, forms the handle of the barbecue.
No one who has seen his armadillo barbecue has ever offered to buy it.
“That’s because I wouldn’t let it go for less than 14 grand,” said Sorich. “It cooks good, too.”
Sorich and his wife, Ana Lisa, a textile designer, take daily walks through the open space preserves that surround their home. Sometimes these walks provide Sorich, a bird enthusiast, with some of his best inspiration. A red-headed woodpecker he snapped with his camera one day now is immortalized in copper, bronze and stainless steel on the side of his house.