April 2, 2011 in Washington Voices

The Verve: Volkswagen specialist broadens horizons

Jennifer Larue, Jlarue99@Hotmail.Com
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Craig Yelley doesn’t consider himself an artist, but he welded a chair made of silverware for a local show and continues to indulge a passion for restoring Volkswagen buses in his home shop.
(Full-size photo)

Art quote

of the week

“Design is in everything we make, but it’s also between those things. It’s a mix of craft, science, storytelling, propaganda, and philosophy.”

Erik Adigard, founder of the design studio M.A.D.


Craig Yelley is on Facebook as Craig FunktownDesigns.

Craig Yelley is a handy guy. Seriously, it just takes checking out his house and man-cave to figure out that he knows his way around tools. “I started tearing stuff apart and putting them back together when I was a kid,” he said.

Referring to the kitchen in his Vinegar Flats house, he said he’s been remodeling for over a month; he tore down a wall and built new countertops that look like shiny wood. In his shop, the carcasses of Volkswagen buses wait to be reborn. “Tinkering with stuff and building things are my personal pleasure,” he said, “I do it to quiet the demons inside.”

Yelley, 43, grew up in San Francisco, where he spent a lot of time in a shop where his dad built cars. “I used to say I would never work on cars,” he said, “I think I hexed myself.” At 18, he bought his first Volkswagen. “Growing up in California with the beach and the association with surfing and VW buses, it was a love that started very early,” he said.

His father had spent time in Spokane, and they moved to the area in 1985 to slow down and get away from the city.

Yelley started a business detailing cars, but a car accident in 1995, followed by months of recovery and financial problems, had him rethinking his future. He bought and sold a couple of cars to pay rent and then turned around 10 Volkswagen Beetles.

Since then, he has built Volkswagen buses and shipped them to Japan, England, Germany and Belgium.

“Coming out of a situation where I was told that I would not be able to do the things that I could do before, I guess I threw myself into things much bigger than I should have taken on, mostly to prove to myself that I could,” he said, “After the accident, I worked day and night to try and come back from nothing.

“But honestly, none of that matters, as I am alive and well and choose to do things as I feel I should. This is our one life. If anyone plans to make an impact on people or leave beautiful things behind, then creating is a full-time job.”

About a year ago, Yelley’s desire to make things led him to designing and building a chair out of bricks and scrap metal. His next chair was made out of knives, forks and spoons. The final product was a surprisingly comfortable seat with a curved back and arm rests. He has also begun altering industrial type objects, like large letters meant for signs, and turning them into home décor. “I like bringing things into the house that aren’t necessarily meant to be there,” he said.

His goal is to keep on keeping on. “Inspiration is everywhere,” he said. “Seems like when I get deep into a project a switch goes off. I can’t describe it, but it’s like tunnel vision, like Superman comes out of the closet. Sometimes I don’t know how I pull it off but I do.” 

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 jlarue99@hotmail.com.

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