Turning cast-offs into creatures
Sep 28, 2018 01:16PM
● By J. Chambless
Pedro DeAlmeida with a few of his metal creations.
By John Chambless
About four years ago, Pedro DeAlmeida
had a background in welding, a bunch of random car parts and an idea.
Inspired by his children's Legos, he decided to make something.
“They had Legos and they'd build them once, then lose the instructions and they'd ask, 'Can you make me something?'” DeAlmeida said. “They were amazed by what I could make, just using my mind.”
Those first metal sculptures – a turtle made out of a shovel, a flower made from a spring, and a “Love” sign made from random parts and implements – were the start of Upcycled Arts, a business that spotlights DeAlmeida's boundless creativity and his ability to see dragonfly wings in saw blades, and dinosaurs in wrenches.
As far as artistic training, “I've had none at all,” he said. “I messed around with working on cars, mostly. That's how I ended up learning how to weld. I never actually went to festivals or shows to see what other people made.”
A graduate of Dickinson High School and Delcastle Vo-Tech, where he learned welding, DeAlmeida has a day job as a labor foreman, but he devotes a few hours each night to poking through his sheds full of metal parts and seeing what he can come up with. And the result is a menagerie of slightly cartoonish, very distinctive animals that are made of things you would never think of putting together.
“The first ones, I was just playing around,” he said of his early works, which are still displayed at his mother's home in Newark. “It started with a little bit of stuff I had laying around. I made one for my mom and one for my wife, and then they started getting a little bit bigger and better. People told me, 'You might be onto something.'”
For the past three and a half years, Upcycled Arts has been a fixture at area crafts shows and events. “I did one car show and did really well,” DeAlmeida said, because the works are largely fashioned from springs and brake rotors and other automotive elements he had on hand. “I was impressed that they loved my stuff as much as I loved their cars,” he said.
“I get a lot of stuff now at junk yards, and people give me things,” he said. “They'd rather give them to me than have them go to a scrapyard. Now I have two sheds full of junk,” he added, laughing. “But instead of going and getting melted down, these pieces are in the same form, just repurposed.”
Among DeAlmeida's trademarks are his “Love” signs, which are assembled from an always-changing array of elements – drill bits, rakes, clamps – anything that will spell out the letters when welded together. Making the signs “is cool but it becomes repetitious, and I got a little tired of that,” he said. “I like to challenge myself.” Now he enjoys creating pigs, dogs, fish, dragonflies and large works that are limited only by how heavy they are when finished, he said.
“I have this one ridiculous piece, a dog that weighs 200 pounds,” he said. “It was the first one I was really happy with. I didn't really want to sell it, so I had it at a few shows, priced at like $2,000. So it's still with me, sitting right by the front door.”
While DeAlmeida makes multiples of popular designs, no two are exactly alike. “When I build one, I'll figure out better ways to make it bigger and better. None of them are the same. All the fish, and all the grasshoppers, are all different,” he said. “I try to not make the same piece. Something will be different on it. If I sell some, I'll make more. I try to keep 50 to 60 in stock. I'm not scared to step out and try new things. I'll kick over a bucket of parts and start seeing things in them.”
Spring and summer are DeAlmeida's busy season, and he's likely to be doing one art show or another every weekend. This past summer has been tough due to repeated rainouts, he said. He also participates in a few Christmas craft shows, but his whimsical animals are not the kind of thing that most people see as holiday gifts.
“I've had people come to the table and say, 'Looking at your stuff has actually made my day,'” DeAlmeida said, smiling. “People usually try to figure out what the pieces are made of. I haven't seen anything like my stuff around.” Other artists may make found-object sculptures, but the Upcycled Arts creations are distinctive.
“Auto parts are probably my favorite things to work with,” DeAlmeida said. “That, and garden stuff. I realy like antique tools. Old farm equipment, stuff that you don't see much these days. I guess some people would consider it junk.”
Broken shovels are versatile, turning into bodies or shells or who knows what else. “Something like an old World War II jerry can with holes in it – I made a goat out of one,” DeAlmeida said, smiling.
When he starts a project, “everything I get is rusty to begin with,” he said. The metal parts have to first be ground down to reveal their untarnished surfaces. Everything is coated with WD-40 before it's sold, but if customers want, they can put DeAlmeida's creatures outside and let them tarnish and rust naturally. This past summer has been a wet one, and “I've had to re-clean all 60 pieces four times this year” after getting caught in a downpour at a show, he said.
Among his best sellers are the “Love” signs. “If you give somebody some flowers, they're only going to last so long. Jewelry, you may end up losing it. But giving somebody a 'Love' sign, that's for life,” he said.
His snails are also big sellers. They're usually made of brake rotors, nuts and bolts, but they have personalities. Among his most spectacular creations are the huge dragonflies with four saw blades for wings. They mount on posts and sway in the wind. As a major statement in a garden setting, they are dazzling.
“I'm working on a couple that are a lot bigger,” DeAlmeida said. “Hopefully they'll be done by next year. I'm working on a fish made out of a bike frame.”
DeAlmeida doesn't have fancy tools, just a welder, anvils, a vise, saws and grinders. After working a full day, he puts in a few precious hours every day making art. “I wish I could make it more of a full-time business,” he said, but for now Upcycled Arts is a creative outlet that can be profitable on a good weekend.
“In the winter I pretty much shut down until the weather gets warmer,” he said. Working outside at his home gets harder in cold weather.
His children – ages 14 and 7 – have grown accustomed to their father's tinkering. “I had my older son with me at a show once and I had him watch the table for a minute. While I was gone, he made $300,” DeAlmeida said. “He was like, 'Dad, I made $300!' I said, 'See? That's why you need to start coming to the shows.' So maybe that will stick with him.
“He's starting going to vo-tech school, so we'll see what he picks up,” DeAlmeida said. “I need to start getting him more involved, but I don't want to pressure him. When I retire, I'm thinking about doing all the design and welding, and have my sons do the shows.”
For now, “My wife has learned to accept having the junk all over the place,” he said, laughing.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/upcycledarts, or call 302-545-8926.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.