Bright Idea: The Flemmings Create Industrial Art From Junk

You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

Oregon-based artists Mandie and Nate Flemming love the Denver art scene so much that they're hauling their upcycled industrial lamps and clocks through the Rockies for Art Denver, which will hold its inaugural edition November 14 through November 16 at the Colorado Convention Center. "The city has a really cool atmosphere," says Mandie, still somewhat shocked that she was accepted into this debut art show produced by the Cherry Creek Arts Festival.

See also: Daniel Neemann Skated Into a Creative Career as a Photographer

The couple has been making stuff together for years, but 2014 marks the first time they've called themselves professional artists, and Art Denver is their first show outside of Oregon, where they've had some luck selling their unique pieces at local restaurants and a small gallery in Portland.

Nate is a licensed electrician and was laid off when the economy tanked. To make ends meet, he fixed cars. When he needed a car trailer to continue his work, Mandie hardly missed a beat: She learned to weld, and built her husband a car trailer.

When you're fixing cars, there's a lot of scrap metal usually funneled into landfills. Mandie thought the scraps looked cool, so she started welding sculptures from them. "Nate decided that if the sculptures were going to come into our tiny house, they would have to serve a purpose," Mandie says. So the electrician began turning his wife's art into lamps.

The two gifted pieces to friends and family, and Nate eventually went back to work as an electrician. But last year Mandie convinced him to quit his day job so that the duo could devote more time to each other -- and to their art.

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Mandie describes the couple's work as "rustic industrial," and says some people call it steam-punk art. "I'm not sure it can be categorized," she adds. "Most of our stuff is still made from recycled and found materials, though electrical components are always new." Everything is truly one-of-a-kind because the Flemmings can't guarantee they'll have the same combination of parts again.

Continue reading for more on the Flemmings' industrial design. Car parts still comprise their primary building material -- and it's attractive to a wide audience. "You'd think it would be mostly guys, but a lot of women are drawn to the pieces," says Mandie.

Now that folks know about what the Flemmings are doing, they'll often bring things to them: anything from tractor and scaffolding pieces to disassembled washers and driers to a truckload of antler sheds. Mandie loves getting people to re-think how things are supposed to be used and finding unexpected purposes for items. "I know Denver is very focused on conservation, so that's a good fit for our work," says Mandie.

Nate keeps up his electrician's license, even though he isn't currently working in that field. The couple thinks there is something reassuring about knowing a licensed electrician brought each lamp to completion. Mandie does most of the design, and Nate has learned to weld, too. "It's awesome working together 90 percent of the time," Mandie says.

There are frustrating moments, but whenever Mandie gets irked, she can go work with a torch. "That's a good outlet," she explains. "Almost as good as skating roller derby was when I lived in Washington."

For more information on the Flemmings and their work, visit their website.

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