March 5, 2012

Interview with Val Kropiwnicki of VK Steelworks

Looking back at this year's Somerset Fly Fishing Show, one of the most memorable booths was that of VK Steelworks and its extremely unique flies.  As such, I wrote a post about it immediately following, displaying a few pictures, and the post received an extremely positive reaction from you guys, my readers.

To follow up on this, I contacted Val Kropiwnicki, the genius behind VK Steelworks, and asked if he would mind doing a quick interview for the blog.  Somewhat surprisingly, he graciously accepted my offer, which I present today.  I hope you enjoy...

An example of Val's work:  The Riley Hound.910.SSSP

Q:  So to open, I have to did you get started tying (should I call it tying?) and sculpting flies like these?

A: Yeah, call it tying, tying sculpture. I had a typical start for someone who grew up in suburban north central Connecticut in the late 60’s and 70’s. My dad was an outdoorsman and taught me how to fish and hunt. He also taught my siblings and me a bunch of other things like making stained glass, weaving, gardening, rod making too. People in general made more stuff back then. Tying flies was also part creative journey my parents laid on my brother and me. I didn’t tie or fly fish in my 20’s or early 30’s and it wasn’t until 2000, when I started teaching, that a coworker reintroduced me to tying and fly fishing. The artistic flies came out of a funk I had been in. A couple years back, in one of those moments where you ask your self “what the hell am I going to make next,” I then asked myself “well, what do you wan to do?” The answer had something to do with making stuff I could trade to upscale lodges for time on serious rivers. I have been tying artistic flies for two years now.

Q: I assume you enjoy you have a formalized background in art as well?

A: BFA Southampton College, Long Island University 1986

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration - the work of other fly tiers, artists, hobbits, possibly the use of hallucinogens?

A: My inspiration comes from life. I know it sound like a cliché, but anything that moves me good or bad is fair game for a piece of art. A song, a sight, people (hobbits are people too,) any of these can make their way into a piece. My art has also always been a way for me to deal with the world around me. If someone pisses me off - I make a piece of art about it. Something I want, something I want to change - I make a piece of art about it. The Korn song “Twisted Transistor” inspired my latest fly.

Q: What else besides fly fishing and art interests Val Kropiwnicki? I bet you're really into watching American Idol, am I right?

A: Nah!!! I could easily live without the “Boob Tube.” Although, there was this really cool show on one of the Spanish channels the other night, it was about the construction of a huge windmill somewhere down in South America. I didn’t understand a word being said but the imagery and pacing of the documentary was amazing. I was mesmerized into watching. All things design interests me, solving problems interests me too.

Q: When I stepped into your booth at Somerset, my reaction was "wow, those are crazy" that a typical reaction when someone sees your work for the first time?

A: The public reaction to the art I make is usually positive. Of course some people don’t get it but that is to be expected with any form of art. I have that curse though; the one that makes me not want to do what anyone has done before. I want people to see craftsmanship in my work. I want people to be able to come back into a work time and time again and find new things to see each time they visit. The Somerset show was cool in that I had middle-aged women and kids digging the work, older couples and hardcore fishermen, suits and other vendors all said some pretty cool things about the art.

Q: In addition to the steel sculptures and tied flies, I also noted you some art on canvas in your booth at Somerset. Do you prefer working with one medium?

A: I have never limited myself to one medium. I work in steel, I paint and draw, I make furniture and I make sculpture. I try to let the pull of creativity tell me what I’m going to do next. I am lucky in that I have a day job teaching Art. Teaching pays the bills and covers insurance for me, and my family. It also allows me to not be a whore with my art and limit the things I make to things that only sell. It only took me 25 years of building but I’m finally at a point where I build what I want when I want. It’s a good thing and I know I’m lucky and I don’t take it for granted, ever!

Q: OK, be you have a favorite piece to date? (Even parents secretly prefer one kid over another).

A: the Smith Trigger.611.BP is hands down my favorite. Barely functional, it represents everything I hope to do combining my metal work and fly tying. It, to me, takes on aspects of a machine, a machine made for catching fish.

The Smith Trigger.611.BP

*edit – since starting to answer these questions I made “the All Weather Floyd.312.SSCLP” and I’m infatuated with this fly for now.

The All Weather Floyd.312.SSCLP
Additional detail

Q: Not looking for any insider secrets...but what lies ahead for of VK Steelworks? Any interesting projects on the horizon?

A: I have a wine bar and a live edge black walnut dining room table on cue and plans for fly display that involves a fly, a bottle of scotch and 8 screen printed shot glasses. I am also collaborating with a plug builder on some one of kind striper plugs. I just finished a ring too. But I’m telling you, and everyone else, don’t even think about asking for matching earrings!

Popham Ring.212.SSSP

Q: Outside of the Fly Fishing Show & your website, where will people be able to see your art on display in 2012? What would be the best way for an interested party to contact you?

A: I don’t have any other fishing shows lined up at this time. I show all my furniture through Fair Haven Furniture in New Haven, CT. Kerry Triffin and his crew at FF are good people – they support creativity.

Q: To close, I have to ask... Have you ever been tempted to take one of your artistic flies and fish it...maybe an unknown species of sabertooth steelhead...or 'Nessie...would dig 'em?

A: I could probably take down a seagull or osprey too! Unfortunately, density rules apply and with all their extraneous metal they would mostly implode on the first back cast. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been tempted though…maybe I’ll send you a picture when I do.


A huge THANK YOU goes out to Val Kropiwnicki of VK Steelworks for taking the time to complete and return this interview.  It was something he certainly didn't have to do considering all of the projects on his plate, but I'm extremely thankful that he did.


  1. A wonderful interview. The mans work is incredible, true "Anglers Art"
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Been seeing these flies over on the classic fly tying forum. The sure are beauties, and definitely something for a shadow box!

  3. I'm glad he did too (took the time to do this interview)
    I'm currently coveting one of his pieces of artwork. But for now, I've pinned one of them to a board.

    That doesn't count for much =)

    But it's a start