By H.M. Cauley

Tom Player makes sculpture his new career.

After 40 years as an attorney, Tom Player turned in his law books and office for an unheated wooden tool shed behind his Brookwood Hills home.

This wasn’t just a case of moving onto a well-earned retirement. Player gave up his first career to pursue a passion for sculpture.

“There is no doubt that this is my new profession,” he said. “I want to get together a body of work I’m proud of as quickly as possible. I’m not a lawyer with a hobby.”

Today, Player works in a cramped, one-room structure lined with shelves piled high with blocks of clay, two laptops, brushes, molds and finished pieces. Some days he spends eight hours there, honing a talent he traces back to his South Carolina childhood, when art was a regular part of his life.

“I used to do paintings, watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings,” he said. “When I went to Furman [University], I had a minor in art. But I never thought I was going to be an artist.”

Unlike many who carefully plot their studies and career movies, Player said his journey through law into art was considerably more haphazard. In college, he took up a roommate’s suggestion that he apply to law school, and a scholarship to the University of Virginia led him into the legal field. But the law school years did provide another experience that Player draws upon for his art.

“I needed money badly in those days, and I had a roommate in law school whose family owned a canal barge along the Mississippi River,” he said. “It was good money. I worked six hours on, then six off, seven days a week, taking boats from Chicago to Galveston. I came to understand the river really well.”

Player has translated that knowledge into three pieces. The first finished work, dubbed “Deckhand,” depicts a shirtless man sitting on the plank deck, straining to pull a cable.

Player wound up in Atlanta by happenstance. During an interview with one firm, he learned of an opening in another company. He applied for that job and won it. In 1974, he started his own firm, which in 1996 became part of Morris Manning & Martin. In the last year, he’s been weaning himself from the office and moving toward art.

“I really enjoyed law, but it’s a very hard field,” he said. “And I knew I had some artistic talent, but I also knew I had to get out of law to pursue it.”

Player now devotes his days to working in his preferred medium – sculpture. He focuses on commissioned pieces as well as his own designs. At his house in Highlands, N.C., he indulges in his love of stone work.

“I tried it 15 years ago, but found that I didn’t have the right tools,” he said. “But five years ago, I got back into it. The biggest problem with stone work is that it’s so loud! You need pneumatic hammers and respiration gear, and I can’t do that here in Brookwood Hills. But in Highlands, I don’t feel so restricted. There’s no one nearby to hear.”

Player’s current stone project is a 5-foot block with a frieze of 12 characters. He learned much of the technique by working with relief artist Marty Dawe at CherryLion Sculpture Studio in Atlanta, and with Robert Bodem in Florence, Italy, over the last two summers.

Through April 3, Player’s third art exhibition is at CherryLion, 889 Morris St. The display includes 12 bronzes as well as a life-sized piece he created while studying in Italy. And as is the case with all of his shows and work, any proceeds will go to charity.