Art of every form seems to have inhabited the hands of Owensboro native Darin Evans. A graduate of Owensboro High School and veteran of the U.S. Navy, Evans has been drawing since he was a small child. Over the past eight years, Evans has transformed that passion, along with his experiences as a jeweler and welder, into one-of-a-kind metal pieces to honor those who have served their country.
In November, Evans was asked by local Gold Star Mother Cathy Mullins to create four 3-foot yellow metal ribbons for the Kentucky Remembers Military Ball. When Evans arrived to deliver those ribbons, he was offered a commission to create one of the most meaningful pieces he has ever designed.
George Wallace of Prestige Cause Marketing was in the process of setting up his auction tables for the military ball when Evans arrived with the life-sized metal ribbons. Wallace was immediately impressed with his work and the two began talking. Evans later received a call from Wallace asking him to create a presentation piece for a Purple Heart recipient in the National Guard.
“This is absolutely one of my favorite pieces,” Evans said. “I try to put a lot of love and reverence into everything I do, but this one was special. I’ve wanted to make a [D. Blacksmith] Metal of Honor Purple Heart forever.”
Evans said he spent about 60 to 80 hours planning and designing the piece, and about 20 hours on the actual piece itself. The final product was created using a bead roller along with a hand hammering technique, with the face of George Washington taking approximately three and a half hours.
“I wanted it to be real,” Evans said. “I didn’t use the press the way it was meant to be, but it came out exactly the way I wanted it to be.”
The first yellow military ribbon Evans designed was for lifelong friend Donna Drake Conley after he learned of her oldest son’s overseas deployment.
“About eight years ago, my son went on his first deployment to Afghanistan and one day Darin showed up,” Conley said. “He had made me a giant yellow ribbon out of metal for my yard. I had replaced the yellow ribbons around my trees several times and he fixed that problem. I still have it — it’s been through a couple of deployments and all kinds of weather.”
That ribbon, Evans said, came from a vision he had to create a life-sized version of the pink breast cancer ribbon and the fascination he had for unit badges and military insignia.
“The crow on the collar, the anchor,” Evans said. “We would be getting inspected [in the Navy] and that’s what I would be looking at.”
Evans joined the U.S. Navy in 1987, after graduating from Owensboro High School. While he did find himself using his drawing skills from time to time when asked to sketch a buddy’s girlfriend or to design the company’s guidon flag, his real interest was in police work. He found himself craving the structure that law enforcement had to offer, but life had a different plan in mind.
In 1992, Evans moved to Las Vegas where he worked with a local jeweler and learned the details behind various jewels and their settings. He then moved back to Owensboro in 1997, where he became an assistant jeweler at Lloyd and Pat’s, setting stones and resizing rings.
It was when Pat came back one day from a trip to Gatlinburg with a truck full of metal lawn ornaments that Evans said his focus began to shift.
“She told me what she paid for them and I just saw dollar signs,” Evans said, adding that he had a friend that owned a welder and felt confident that he too could create such pieces.
Before long, Evans had created over 150 lawn ornaments which he sold for $40 a piece.
“I don’t do anything half-way,” Evans said. “I began reading everything I could on metal work.”
With Evans’ Montgomery GI Bill from the military about to expire, he used his newfound passion for shaping metal and the money from the government to attend welding school, clocking 1,920 hours.
Over the years, Evans has created everything from candy canes and bird’s wings to yoga trees and swing sets.
“I find that it’s easier to think of what I haven’t made,” Evans said. ““I’m not the artist — I am the instrument — things flow through me. I try to force metal sometimes to be what I want it to be and it’s just a disastrous mess. I have to find metal that wants to be what I want it to be.”
While Evans’ current business is composed primarily of wrought iron gates and railings, it is evident that the metal has often spoken to him in the form of focal pieces for the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Fla. and the “record-setting basket” at the Western Kentucky Botanical Gardens.
“For the longest time, I’ve been a commissioned artist,” Evans said. “You don’t get a call for a big basket or theatre balcony of Capitol Theatre every day — that is the pinnacle of what I do. Railings and gates pay the bills, but art is what I want to do.”
While Evans takes pride in each piece he has created, he said the most meaningful pieces have been the ones that pay tribute to the service of others and give back to the community in some way.
“What I really, really want to do are things like this Purple Heart and give back to the veteran community,” Evans said. “That’s my dream — that’s what I want to do. I want to give recognition to the veterans — without them I wouldn’t be here in the first place.”