Washington artist recycles scrap metal in his sculptures
August 16, 2001
Washington artist Dan Klennert and his quest to renew the spirit of old scrap metal in new sculptures is distinctive, to say the least. He welds uses the shielded metal arc welding process and creates dinosaurs, horses, fish, giraffes, and almost anything else he sets his mind on.
|Klennert used metal plates and horseshoes to create the body of this seahorse, a project inspired by pieces of metal he found in a barn that was burned down. He also used old belt pulleys to provide the roundness of the seahorse's body and electrical motor scrap for the end of its tail.|
When Dan Klennert was just 6 years old, he embraced art by drawing and tracing pictures from his coloring books. Now he scours the ravines of eastern Washington wheatfields in search of scrap metal that will spark his next creation.
Klennert, a 50-year-old Elbe, Wash., resident, started welding almost 30 years ago when he learned to use shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) from his boss while working as a mechanic. Since then he hasn't stopped using the process, but now he uses it artistically.
"He taught me how to run a bead on two flat pieces of metal," Klennert said of his former employer. "He told me to watch the puddle and just practice, practice, practice. So that's what I've been doing."
These days Klennert's studio, not far from Mount Rainier, is a 5,000-sq.-ft. wonderland of rust-colored scrap metal sculptures, outside of which is approximately 3 acres of land, the stage for his outdoor creations. His projects, some weighing as much as 6,000 or 8,000 lbs., include dinosaurs, birds, fish, horses, and people on Harley motorcycles.
Klennert didn't start out trying to build the biggest scrap metal statues he could, however. In fact, it took a back injury he incurred while working in construction to push him toward pursuing his art seriously.
"I think I was meant to be an artist. It's my heart and soul combined," he said.
For 10 years Klennert made welded scrap metal gifts. Then one day someone suggested that he take his creations to an arts and crafts fair. It was then that people started noticing his sculptures — and paying for them.
Today people traveling from all over the world can stop by Klennert's studio on the way to Mount Rainier. He recently had his picture taken with monks from Thailand who visited him during their journey.
People's reactions to his art still amaze Klennert.
"They see my junk and thank me for enlightening them. Isn't that something?" he said.
|The cowboy boot tips used for "Jens the Gun Fighter," made of large backhoe teeth, inspired Klennert to create this sculpture. Jens stands at 9 ft. 6 in. tall without the base, 11 ft. 6 in. tall with the base.|
In his search for his next inspired sculpture, Klennert lets the metal "speak" to him.
During his quests for inspiration, which mostly lead him to wheatfields in eastern Washington, Klennert looks for one piece of metal that he can envision as any part of an animal or creation. Then he searches for other parts that will work together with that piece to become the image in his mind.
The scrap he finds comes from, for instance, Model Ts and farm implements that were dumped as long ago as the 1920s. Klennert sees a certain history, personality, and spirit in these pieces just waiting to be revived in a sculpture.
"The metal dictates what I create; it speaks to me," he said. "It's the metal that made America what it is today. It jumps out at me to what I see in my mind's eye—a part of a bird, a person, a tricycle."
Because he feels he gives new life to old scrap metal, Klennert calls his studio "Recycled Spirits."
Klennert hasn't tried any other welding processes since he started experimenting with SMAW. However, he does introduce new ideas into his art with paint, hanging flags, or wildflowers for color. Recently he started using driftwood in his statues.
"I guess I'm old-fashioned," he said about sticking with SMAW. "I've always loved art, drawing, pictures, wood carving — creating with my hands. And when I got into being a mechanic, it all came together because I like to scrounge, too."
Klennert said he doesn't think about what types of metals he's welding together. Instead, he takes buckets or a wheelbarrow with him to find what he thinks will look right in the final product. Many pieces already have been harvested, awaiting just the right piece that will spark Klennert's imagination.
Like the wide range of metal he welds, a variety of music also helps the mood when Klennert's inspired. He plays anything from American Indian music to rock 'n' roll when he's hard at work.
No matter the creation, Klennert is happy to bring back to life the lost pieces of metal dumped along the roadsides of America. In bringing them together, he says he brings back a piece of history, one scrap at a time.
"I'm cleaning up America by welding all this junk together."