The motion and glint from the mirrors are the first things to catch your eye. Then you see it: a big metal fish — a yellowfin tuna, in fact — with a propeller in its mouth, gently revolving in the breeze in front of the granite monuments, just past the U-Haul place as you drive west on Tenney Mountain Highway in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
“It’s sort of an eclectic combination of working with what I have to make something new,” Pete Brown said of his sculptures. “I like to take items that don’t really belong together and put them together. It might be a usable item or not.”
Brown grew up mechanically inclined. “I was a mechanic for many years,” he said, adding, “I even had my own shop in Franklin for five years.” Today, his primary career is building street rods, also known as “rat rods.” Brown says these are made from a “conglomeration of parts from different makers — Ford, Chevy, Buick. I like to concentrate on having a strange power plant. I go for more exotic things, like a 1941 tank engine that’s going in one street rod right now. I’ve also used snowmobile carburetors.” One vehicle he made for himself logged over 31,000 miles from New Hampshire down to North Caroline and back through Maine. “I use parts that weren’t meant to be together, but I adjust them and make them work out. Sometimes it just falls together, so I like to say I get lucky a lot. It’s a lot of trials with errors.”
His sculpture started as a hobby, something to do on the side, but Brown notices that his career is transitioning into mostly sculpture. When I went to visit him in August, he was sold out of his big sculptures. It was raining again, as it had most of this summer. Visitors must pick their way carefully through all the pieces of metal piled everywhere, scattered on the ground and hidden in the mud, but Brown knows where everything is and glides easily on his improvised ramps in and out of his studio/home/workshop/hoarder’s paradise. As we talk, he temporarily turns off his homemade rock tumbler (powered by a windshield wiper engine), in which he is making sea glass.
It’s hard to tell where the workshop ends and the house begins: There are parts everywhere. A light is made from bicycle gears. Instead of a kitchen table, there’s a lathe. Likewise, it can be hard to tell what is intended to be a sculpture and what is intended as a useful machine. The massive fan in the yard could be either. In fact, he constructed it to keep cool in the summer and help blow away the bugs.
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