If you were to happen to take Exit 2 east of Stateline, Idaho, notice signs for a “shop sale,” and follow those signs, you’d end up at Mark Olmstead’s place. Initially, it’s not much to look at; there are a couple of shops filled with stuff that you may or may not need including tools, parts, and the occasional “What the heck is that used for?” item.
If you were the curious type, you might ask Olmstead about the water feature to the west of the shops and you just might be lucky enough to be invited into the world “behind the curtain” where at once you realize that you’re not “in Kansas anymore.” It is not the rush of the freeway that you hear but water turning wheels, splashing on rocks, and replenishing small ponds. “This is my relaxation,” Olmstead said, “I can watch the wheel go round for hours.”
It is an oasis nestled between the freeway and the shops, between the main house and the shops, and behind the house. There are archways, a garden bench on old metal wheels with a cement seat and another, a slab of marble permanently fixed into a stack of rocks. There are ponds flanked by layers of rocks that water rushes over, and curious creatures at the water’s edge including prehistoric looking birds. Other creatures sit among flowers and vines and abstract sculptures cause a wanderer to pause and wonder about its parts, and a towering flower bends slightly, dripping water into a birdbath.
The pieces are all handmade by Olmstead out of equipment once used on farms and in shops, repurposed and placed in stark contrast to the lush greenery and flowers, but somehow they fit. It almost seems that the pieces have been put out to pasture, a final resting place of peace where others can bask in their newly found beauty.
Olmstead was brought up in Sandpoint, where he worked for the forest service and in a mill. “I was brought up in ranch country,” he said, “I learned at a young age that if you need it, go out to the shop and make it, and if it’s broken, fix it. I learned how to use a welder and a soldering iron. My dad taught me to build a house, how to remodel, and how to design things.” His hobbies included building furniture and making knives.
Olmstead settled in Post Falls in 2000 after working as an electronic technician in the Tri-Cities and has been what he calls an “auction-preneur” and an artist ever since; he buys and sells tools, industrial equipment, and other things while collecting pieces for his art.
Olmstead has a long “to-do” list, including the transformation of an untouched area where pieces wait in tall grass to be given new life.
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