By Rudy Schouten, Freelance Writer
Ryan Feeney’s work is all about the art of shaping metal into some creative form, whether it’s an elaborate iron railing or a bronze sculpture. Bringing chunks of inert material to life takes a little magic, but he didn’t just discover it yesterday. The man behind the statue of Peyton Manning welcoming fans to Lucas Oil Stadium grew up on the east side of Indianapolis, the second of three children.
He credits his parents with being “the perfect combination of influences” for starting his own company: a creative bent from his mom and a nose for running a business from his dad. His calling as an artist took root in grade school when he began drawing sketches at a friend’s house, and it blossomed when he discovered the joy of dipping his hands in three-dimensional work, carving shapes out of blocks of wood in a Cathedral High School art class.
Feeney was encouraged to continue his pursuit of art after high school and enrolled at Miami University, where he studied graphic design and sculpture. When he was a senior, he was offered his first paid job as a sculptor — a life-sized bronze statue of two children at play. The project was considerably bigger than any sculpture he’d done before, so Feeney admitted to some private misgivings in taking the work. “I could have easily said, ‘No, I can’t do that yet,’ but what came out of my mouth was ‘Sure, I can do that!’ I tend to say ‘yes’ quickly and then lose a little sleep figuring out how to do it later. But that’s how you build confidence in yourself.”
After graduation, Feeney took a position as an artist assistant, which presented him with an opportunity to create new works of his own on the side. He built industrial-look store fixtures for a sporting goods chain before going to work as a designer and fabricator for an established wrought iron shop. It was all about gaining valuable experience and that led him to establishing Indy Art Forge in 1999, where today he creates works of art that include sculptures as well as decorative, functional items like furniture, handrails and oven hoods.
But Feeney never spends more than two days in a row in his shop — because he’s also an Indianapolis firefighter. His schedule calls for 24 hours on duty at the firehouse and then 48 hours “off” for his other job. Mix in the time it takes for family life, a priority for Feeney, and you have something that maybe only an iron man could manage. His three children (ages 10, 13 and 16) must admire their dad for balancing two very noble professions, which begs the question: Are they more proud of him as a fireman or an artist?
Feeney answers modestly, but without much hesitation; “Oh, being a fireman has always been first, but after the Manning statue … it’s probably a tie.”