Jeff Jensen has a shy manner, a neat beard and a castle in his back yard. With moat and cannon.
Jensen, 28, is an iron worker who earns a paycheck from a construction company, on straightforward projects like McDonald’s or Toys R Us. It’s on his own time that he builds creations of whimsy, beauty and humor.
“It’s art with a purpose,” he says. The latest work in his back yard is a pergola that stretches from house to shop. The columns reach into spreading arches; wood poles will make the cross pieces. And grapevines will complete the project. Never mind art with a purpose, this is art that will taste good.
Out front of his modest home on Vercler, an iron squirrel tops Jensen’s mailbox, a cock pheasant tops the neighbor’s mailbox, and a quail weather vane crowns one fencepost.
Jensen’s mother, Laura Neely, long ago told her son to “never, never buy me anything.” Instead she hopes for handmade gifts, like the heart and arrow he gave her one birthday.
For his art, Jensen uses scrap iron from Pacific Recycling. His ideas come from books at the library, or simply his own head. “I think about them all the time,” he says.
Take the guard door he built for his shop. A bolt, a hammer and a screw are worked into the design. “I mostly get the iron out and throw the pieces down on the floor,” he says. His shop is huge and rough-finished. The wood stove looks big enough to heat a cathedral. The concrete floor can take plenty of projects in various stages.
“Jeff’s yard is incredible. He’s so creative,” says Ellen Kelley, whose husband owns Interstate Structures, where Jensen works during construction season.
Jensen’s mother says her son’s seasonal work is perfect for him. “He gets laid off every winter and he looks forward to it,” Neely says. Wintertime is creative time.
Neely knew her son’s talent was unusual when he got his first car - and started making both the parts and the tools he needed for it. “He’s just like my father,” Neely said.
She dreams that his creations will evolve into a career for him as an artist.
Jensen has built chairs that he’s sold through a local nursery. But he enjoys the creativity of one-of-a-kind pieces. And he likes to keep his work, so he can enjoy it.
Consider a piece that sits to one side of Jensen’s back yard, easily overlooked.
It’s a lacy steeple, all iron and about 14 feet tall, topped with a cross, and accented with a couple of windows. In one window hangs a lived-in looking bird house. It’s name? “That’s Squirrel Church,” Jensen says, with his quiet grin.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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