ELLSWORTH — Create some unique and cool metal art, post it on Instagram, and you never know who will come calling. Ellsworth High School graduate Tom Patsis first took a call from Netflix, who saw his work on social media. Then he took home the top $50,000 prize in “Metal Shop Masters,” which Netflix aired in September of 2021.
Patsis had already carved out an artist’s life after over a decade at professional drag racing’s Don Schumacher Racing in Indianapolis. He’d learned his welding and automotive skills at Hancock County Technical Center and K&B Automotive, and then at the University of Northwestern Ohio Motorsports College.
Bob Alexander owned K&B Automotive then, and now his son Brett does. Both remember Patsis well, first as an intern and then as a part-time employee during his last two years of high school.
“Even at that age, Tom definitely made an impression,” Brett said. “He drove this old piece of crap truck, spray-painted in all NAPA colors. At that time, he had a focus on professional motor sports. It was kind of hard to picture this scrawny, wild-eyed kid — it just makes you appreciate a lot more where he ended up. It’s very impressive.”
Brett’s father, Bob Alexander, said Patsis showed talent as young teen. “He was always constructing something, he had model cars he had built from just pieces of wire formed together and soldered when he was 13, 14 years old.”
Patsis was passionate about motorsports and working on cars, but he also loved making art. He was able to merge both interests in Cold Hard Art, his studio outside of Indianapolis — despite a high school art teacher he said pulled him aside in 1997 to warn him that as an artist, “no one’s going to take you seriously with that race car stuff.”
But while working in Indianapolis, he began creating art pieces for fun and welding practice, he said. “It just became an idea growing underneath me.”
After seven years of long days at Schumacher and long nights in his home studio, Patsis said in 2015 his wife, Amanda, told him to make a choice.
“I had to take a leap of faith,” he said. So, he began creating trophies for professional racing, race car replicas, custom gifts and even roses for Valentine’s Day full time in his Cold Hart Art studio.
Six years later, Netflix came calling.
Patsis said the experience overall was great, even if he and the seven other artists on the show were not what producers imagined.
“Welders who are artists are more emotional kind of people,” he said. “We’re very blue collar, we get our hands dirty, we make stuff. But we were all hugging each other.”
He survived six on-the-spot challenges thrown at the artists in the Netflix show in September 2020 that aired a year later.
Patsis said he felt in danger of being eliminated on the “shadow challenge,” where the eight artists had to build a sculpture of an object that, when light was cast upon it, threw a shadow of something totally different.
“I’m into mechanical things, race cars,” he said. “But I love the space shuttle program. So, I made this space shuttle taking off. When it was just standing there with all the smoke, the shadow it cast was an Indy car doing a burn out.”
He survived that round. And the final challenge was perfect for him, a golf cart chassis for a post-apocalyptic vehicle.
“I was like given this gift,” he said. “For me to get a car-related challenge at the end gave me such a boost of confidence. This is what I do every day.”
Bob Alexander met up with Patsis recently at a trade show in Indianapolis.
“The pieces he makes, the trophies for different racing organizations, it’s pretty amazing,” Alexander said. “He’s a great example of a kid who flourished due to vocational education. Because he was able to get the core skills at HCTC, welding and automotive, I think it was a huge part of what he’s become today … For him to leverage his talent to this level is an accomplishment, a great accomplishment.”