Home Improvement

Published on Thu, Mar 20, 2008
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Home Improvement

Metal fabricator creates functional outdoor art

By Jack Kintner

Here’s a guy who loves his work. Joe Clark creates what he calls functional art out of metal. “Actually, I use a lot of stuff,” he said, “including blown glass, plate glass, resin, plastics, fiber art and wood works. We often work with other artists and craftsmen to create cohesive multi-media designs.”

For example, Frank and Mary King of Bellingham have a house that has a high cathedral ceiling with a free-standing gas-fired stove and an upstairs hallway that becomes a 50-foot balcony as it runs through the living room. “We covered the galvanized vent pipe with bronze that I first treated with chemicals to get a certain kind of aged finish, or patina. You could get the same thing by leaving it outside for a year or two but this controls the look you get,” Clark said.

Once the bronze cladding has the look Clark wants, he installs it and then coats it with something to protect the finish from further change, usually clear lacquer or even paste wax. “It’s to protect the metal, not your hands. If you were to touch this the acids in your hand will eventually etch the surface,” he said. He added a seamless bronze fireplace surround to complete the piece. The upstairs railing is steel, also treated to develop a unique patina, combined with brass highlights. Both pieces, of course, are unique creations that also serve a practical purpose. “It’s functional art that is both unique but also integrated with the house,” Clark said.

Another house on Chuckanut Point needed a bench to go around and highlight an outdoor hot tub. “You don’t want to use metal, of course, because that’s almost always going to be too cold. So we used steam-bent teak slats for the base,” he said, describing a creation in which the artist in him really seemed to come out.

“I’ve never steam bent teak before, but wanted to try, so I made a box and hooked up a crab cooker to it for steam. I put the slats in for a couple of hours and then wrapped them around a bending form,” Clark said.

Since they describe an eight-foot diameter semi-circle, each slat needed to describe a slightly larger curve to fit around the one in front of it, so to accomplish that he simply stacked them together edge to edge once they were steamed and bent them all at once, one inside the other, getting the kind of gradual increase in diameter he needed.

Clark said the back was a little trickier. He used eleven slats for the seat and five for the back, but the back also involved making a compound curve (a surface that curves in more than one direction at once, like the fender on a car) since it not only curves around but also leans back a little to be comfortable. “Each slat cost $250 so I tried not to make any mistakes,” he said.

Another project, done for a view property in Bellingham’s Edgemore neighborhood, shows off Clark’s ability to do semi-representational art, using motifs that seem to blend the industrial look of art deco that the metals he uses seems to be suited for with a more art nouveau influence of images of local foliage and landscapes.

He made two small pass gates of woven brass bars with side posts that contain flowing and representational silhouettes of leaves and foliage based on nearby Madrona trees that cover the property (photo above).

“I designed it on Autocad and then executed the design in the metal using computer numeric control (CNC), which is a way of cutting using a computer for precision and accuracy,” Clark said.

In the future, Clark will be working with Bellingham architect Dave Christensen on a renovation of the old Gaston Bay Building at the end of Roeder Street, and also plans to work on multi-media projects with glassblower Christopher Morrison, creator of the large piece inside the entrance to Fairhaven’s Village Books.

If your tastes run to more modest examples of functional art, Clark also makes small items such as drawer pulls, gratings, light fixtures and even custom house numbers.

His website has examples of his work at www.ArchitecturalEle-mentsGallery.com. For more information call 360/201-6995.