Robert LaMonte is a tinkerer, a scientist, an engineer and a forward-thinking artist.
He creates gizmos that blend the past with the future; the Victorian era and art deco with fantastic inventions. His gadgets include what-not boxes, clocks, lights, and other accessories that inspire wonder.
“I like to put things together that weren’t meant to go together,” he said.
His work, could easily be found in the Thunderdome, an H.G. Wells novel or any science fiction story about time travel in which characters are dressed to a T.
“I was born in the wrong era,” LaMonte said. When he exhibits his work, he dons a top hat, tails and tinted spectacles or machinist goggles; standing, like a work of art himself, near a display of humming, glowing, ticking and functional designs straight out of an inventor’s lab.
His style is steampunk, something he was doing in his father’s automotive repair shop even before the term was coined, using things like pistons, crank shafts, and engine blocks to make furniture. He has also made art for the garden.
LaMonte grew up in Okanogan County where he took art classes in high school but failed to find inspiration. He was more drawn to tearing things apart and putting them back together again. He worked in his father’s shop and has been an automotive technician ever since, giving him an endless supply of discarded parts.
“I love reclaiming stuff,” he said. He finds other parts at recycling centers, salvage yards, yard sales and secondhand stores. He searches online for things he can’t find, including working vintage light bulbs.
He builds his work with an array of tools and machinery including a drill press, a welder, a sandblaster, a band saw and small hand tools. The finished products, though built of reclaimed items, look brand new in a mix of industrial and delicate. He is currently playing with lasers and audio.
His work has been featured in the book “1,000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art” (2011) and a cover he built for an Xbox 360 was written about in “Geeky Gadgets.”
He has sold his work to collectors and steampunk fans and has been commissioned by businesses and private parties to do pieces including lights, wall hangings, and a cellphone cover. He has work at Manic Moon and More, 1007 W. Augusta Ave., and, last year, he set up his wares at SpoCon where he sold out and had to run home for more pieces.
LaMonte is a member of a local steampunk group that he exhibits with. The group’s next show will be Sept. 5 at the Steam Plant, 159 S. Lincoln St., a display that is sure to make visitors think that they have just stepped out of a time machine, half expecting Dr. Who to greet them.