I’m staring at a seven-foot tall skeleton with four arms. As I look closer, I can see that the monstrosity’s ribs are made out of crescent wrenches, its fingers are made from rusty bolts and the lens covering its right eye is actually an old spoon. Fred Conlon, the mad scientist behind this towering creation has a gift for turning discarded tools, military helmets and scrap metal into garden art for those who are tired of plastic gnomes and pink flamingos. He was kind enough to chat with SLUG about his particular brand of heavy metal.
SLUG: Are you from Utah originally?
Conlon: I actually grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I went to school in Iowa for my freshman year of college. Iowa wasn’t for me, so I decided to move someplace a little closer to home, and Utah seemed like a good fit. It’s only about six hours from Steamboat Springs and I could still ski in the winters. I graduated with a degree in communications from the University of Utah.
SLUG: How did you get started as an artist?
Conlon: I started out as a potter. After college, it was my dream to open a pottery shop. I did that for about three years, but we were just scraping by and trying to make ends meet. Plus, I’m kind of a klutz so I ended up breaking pots all the time! I needed something more durable that I could throw around. One day, I made a turtle and set it outside the pottery shop and someone came by and said they wanted to buy it. That got my mind rolling about some different ideas that I had in my head. I started making turtles and ladybugs and it sort of grew from there.
SLUG: What materials do you use in your work?
Conlon: I use real dummy grenades, authentic World War II helmets, shell casings and bombshells. I like to use the military stuff because, like the prophet Isaiah said, the day will come when we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. What better way to fulfill that prophecy than to take something that was once used in combat and reuse it in the garden?
SLUG: What do you enjoy about working with metal?
Conlon: The thing I like most about working with metal is finding interesting pieces to put together. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s totally true. I’ll go to the junkyard or transmission shop and scrounge around to find some really cool pieces. I don’t know what they’re going to be at first. I have everything organized in five-gallon buckets in the studio, and when I’m ready to make a large piece, I just dump everything out. You kind of have to listen to what the pieces are saying to you! It’s cool to take something that was used in war like an army helmet or something automotive and give it a second life. It’s the ultimate form of recycling.