Ten years ago, Nick Soroka was at a crossroads. He was coming to the end of his second enlistment in the Air Force, and facing the decision of whether to commit to another 12 years, or to find a new direction.
“I was really on the fence,” he says. “It was fun while it lasted and I got to meet some great people. But [I wondered,] can I do something I’m good at if I don’t love it?”
He chose not to re-enlist, but then faced the question of what to do next. He had recently married and his wife asked him: “What would you do if you could do anything you want?”
Soroka says the question was daunting at first. But after moving to Richmond and landing a job with a furniture restoration business, he discovered an interest in working with wood—and that he could learn more right around the corner in the VCUarts Department of Craft/Material Studies.
“There’s something about functionality,” he says. “I never looked at furniture with the idea that art doesn’t have to be functional. Given that wiggle room, you can make anything you want.
“VCU is taking that to a whole other level. Giving myself permission to reference furniture, versus sticking to the guidelines, it’s like reconditioning from this military mindset. That has been the greatest thing from VCU is reprogramming that.”
Soroka’s work often draws on nature, from insects to birds to deer and other wildlife. He often spends time in his garden, taking in the tiniest details and moments of interaction. In his Ambuscade sculpture, for example, he carefully studies the forms and shapes of a praying mantis body and reimagines them in an Art Nouveau style.
“I feel like it’s a luxury to stand back and tune everything else out, to go out at nighttime and just stare at the stars” he says. “A lot of times, people don’t realize what’s under their nose; we have so many other distractions. I want to create a more romantic version of those little things.”
As Soroka has opened up to the possibilities of where life might take him, he found unexpected inspiration on vacation in Lexington, Virginia. Last fall, he took the semester off and was looking for a weekend reset in the midst of the pandemic. He found an Airbnb that a couple had transformed into a hobbit home built into a hill.
Over the years, the couple had woven branches to create walkways and openings while preserving the magic of the forest surrounding the home. The husband was a blacksmith and a woodworker whose sculptures were placed throughout the property. He even taught workshops for guests.
By the time Soroka left, he was ready to build a similar home—something he and his wife hope to pursue in the coming years.
“It might not be making a hobbit home, per se, but making a space that has that same energy and love given to it,” he says. “That big goal kind of seems impossible, but I really want to do something like that. If you have a dream, keep that. Things will fall into place to get there. No matter how big it is, you have to focus on it, break down little things to get you there.”
Find more of Soroka’s work at nicholasjsoroka.com.