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Washington Voices

Al Blum creates sculptures from machinery

Thu., June 25, 2009

The Flaming Breasted Horned Eagle Owl, perched on the archway that leads to Al Blum’s Otis Orchards property, is a visitor’s first indication that a creative soul lives there; the bird’s body is a gas tank, its outstretched wings are handle bars, and its large eyes are turn signal lenses.

Blum’s palette is filled with heavy metals. His supplies include transmission gears, lifters, exhaust pipes, fenders, sprockets, springs, chains, shocks, heat shields and headlights. Blum is a green artist, and to him, “parts are art.”

Blum’s sculptures are made of motorcycle parts with the occasional automotive or airplane part. He gets his parts in bulk at swap meets or from people who deal in those kinds of things. In piles and boxes, the parts lie in wait to be transformed into something far removed from their original intent. They become a 5-foot kokopelli (a hunched, flute-playing deity), herons, suns, dogs, cats, moose or a 10-foot woman called “Tank Top” who holds up her end of the clothes line. “I try to refrain from using the dryer,” Blum said.

Blum is into recycling.

“I like to give worthless things new life.”

He can look at a box of what someone might call junk and see the potential within. He refers to his current project, a half-built moose that, when complete, will be so large it will need to be moved in segments. “I looked at a box of parts and saw a moose,” he said.

Blum, 52, has always been creative. His father was an upholsterer, and Blum learned to use a powerful sewing machine when he was 5. He would take scraps and make clothes for his GI Joes. When Blum was 11, his father was in an airplane accident and things changed.

“Life got tough. We started shopping at thrift stores,” he said.

Blum began making things to compensate for what he didn’t have. He made old clothes into the latest styles and began selling hats he made out of scraps of denim and choppers made out of pipe cleaners.

Blum got his first motorcycle when he was 16. It was a 175cc Bridgestone. He now rides Harleys and Indians and restores old motorcycles.

Blum is an upholsterer by day, refurbishing the old into the new, from couches to boats. He does his work in a converted hay barn on his property and creates his sculptures in another outbuilding that sits on 2 1/2 acres where he has started a bone yard and a Christmas tree farm. A sculpture made of old sewing machines and other unique pieces sits among the wildflowers. Some of his pieces are lit by solar panels.

Blum did his first sculpture last spring after having a wild dream that motivated him to create his first kokopelli. He took it to a blues festival, and it sold quickly. He then bought a better welder and has not stopped creating worthy things out of worthless things.

“I like helping nature and spreading good will,” he said, “My work provides good feelings and smiles.”

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by e-mail

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