Steve Tobin first saw the termite mounds on a trip to Ghana in 1996. Rising as high as 20 “I feet, they took his breath away. “I saw them,” he says, “as monuments to the insect gods and the glory of nature.”
Obsessed, Tobin, 41, a sculptor who lives in Pleasant Valley, Pa., returned last year to make rubber casts of the mounds. Back home in his barn-studio, he cast them in bronze, replicating every nook and crevice of the originals, which are made of dirt bonded with termite saliva. Now he has 12 of the bronzes (none including bronze termites) and, with exhibitions of his work in two Manhattan galleries, is asking upwards of $60,000 each. “The works,” says Rick Kaufmann, owner of Art Et Industrie gallery, “are literally monumental in scope and in scale.”
Tobin, who grew up in Villanova, Pa., the son of a clothing manufacturer and a homemaker, fell in love with art—particularly glassblowing—while majoring in math at Tulane University in New Orleans. His glass artworks quickly earned him recognition. “I got work in museums when I was still in college, and I thought art was easy,” he says. In 1993, feeling his work had hit an artistic glass ceiling, he switched to metal.
To create the sculptures, the biggest of which weighs 2½ tons, Tobin spent $600,000 on travel, materials and manpower, some of which he raised through an equity loan on the 100-year-old home he shares with a dog, a cat and a goat. And no, the house doesn’t have termites.