We were breezing through National Park Highway with the winds of Rainier at our backs,
heading through Ashford, WA on the way to Mt. St. Helens (see: Beauty and the Beast),
when the sight of a 17-foot grazing giraffe (Aspen Zoe) craning over a split-rail fence caught our attention,
causing us to catch a second look.
The open field before us provided a perfect pedestal for oversized sculptures.
The allure of a hidden sculpture garden amid the cedars and firs of the Cascades was galvanizing, and had us hooked.
We felt magnetically drawn to the magical monstrosities, and compelled to turn into the gravel driveway for a closer look, sharing the parking lot with The Angel from Hell.
The gatekeeper was generous, allowing us passage,
and we were free to roam through Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park for a small donation.
I turned to Leah, pointing to the bird…
“Check it out. Toucan get in for the price of one!” I mused.
“Your jokes are a bit rusty,” she retorted.
“True,” I countered, “but at least I beaked your interest.
We paused at our first fish-out-of-water encounter to admire the mechanical calculus of mashing a gearhead, cogs and sprockets together with a wheel here, and a drain cover there, and accented with a fan blade for a fin, and a saw blade for a snout, wrapped around an exoskeleton of grating.
“How many horseshoes do you think it took to fabricate the skin?” Leah wondered aloud.
We stepped around for a different perspective.
“Why don’t you ask the artist,” volunteered a robust woman wearing a calico print apron and approaching us from the porch. Indicating afar with her pointer finger, “That’s my husband on the tractor out there, just about finishing up the front yard cut. He’d be happy to meet-cha by the garage, cuz he loves talking about his art.”
Dan Klennert was hungry for conversation, and passionate about his process of collecting junk.
He walked us through the nerve center of his creative cocoon, where all things junk were separated according to subject and size, and stacked in stalls that reached to the rafters.
There are scores of “works in progress” scattered throughout the warehouse that originated on the whim and inspiration of a stray piece of driftwood, or the basin of a wheelbarrow, or the rotary cage of a lawnmower.
Dan is a junk whisperer of sorts. As he sifts through new collections of scrap that he regularly inherits from area farmers and ranchers, he gets a “tingle of inspiration” when he comes across something special.
“This here’s gonna be a whale,” Dan claims, showing us the sweep of the bough with the sweep of his hand. “And this eagle I got started on, I’m still waitin’ on the perfect piece that gonna be his wings.”
“I grew up in a small town called Crookston, MN,” he recalls, “and as a kid, I loved to draw. When I was seven, my family moved to Seattle. That’s when I started pulling my red wagon around the neighborhood, and collecting things from junk piles. I wasn’t much of a student then, but Friday was always my favorite day of the week, because Friday was art day at school.”
Dan became a mechanic by age 22 and learned from a foreman “how to glue two pieces of metal with a welder.”
“I found a way to put together the two things I loved most, scrounging and art,” confides Dan.
Leah and I continued our tour of the property, where the playful…
and the whimsical…
intercepted with the spiritual…
and the carnal…
But it’s safe to say that Dan Klennert has found his Eden on earth. His four-acre niche has given him a place to park the variations of a mechanical mind that melds an anchor to a sprinkler to imagine a snail, as he earnestly nudges the nuance of ex-nihilo–creation out of nothing.