Form and context
Lyndon Boone Durkee
“If I don’t think it’s going to last 30 years, I don’t build it,” Lynden Boone Durkee assured, which is incredible considering some of his work is almost 100 years old—it’s a guarantee that, in all likelihood, will outlast your very own corporal warranty. Durkee transforms historical and industrial-era items—wagon wheels, large drill bits, headlights—into functional art objects like lamps, mirrors and tables. He finds objects to recreate in the Foothills and at local garage sales with his wife, Chris, and all of his items are “98-percent recycled.” Durkee uses his blue-collar savvy to transform, say, a 1920s acetylene generator (used for welding) into a living-room lamp, replete with faux crystallized carbide and functional on-off switch. “There are a lot of welders who aren’t around any more because of these things,” Durkee said; acetylene gas is highly unstable. Learn more about Boone’s Rustic Works at www.boonesrusticworks.com.
What’s your background?
Well, I was a welder for probably 10 years. Then I was a commercial plumber.
Any art experience?
Nope. This is it. What you see is what you get. I was never trained in it. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned mechanically—even the piano. …
I’m kind of worthless, man. I’m nothing but a plumber. I just always liked doing this; I did it back in the ‘70s, but then I got married and, you know, you get kids coming and a wife and, guess what? This kind of fun stuff just goes away.
What was your inspiration?
I went up to Knight Foundry, which is the only water-powered foundry west of the Mississippi. And they had all these wheels sitting on the side of a hill. And I asked the guy, “How much money do you want for all the wheels?” And he said, “Aw, give me 65 bucks.” Well, I thought as soon as I looked at the wheels that I could make a table out of one just for fun, and so I bought all his wheels.
What do people like most about your work?
I think because it’s historical, and the cleverness of it. When it has things that make it function, everybody always likes that. Like when they go and push down on the sewing machine foot pedal [and the lamp light turns on].
Do you view yourself as an artist?
Well, I actually see myself as more of a mechanic. I’m mechanical. I’m a fabricator.
Why is preservation important to you?
To me personally, I grew up with a lot of that stuff. I’m older. I know what a lot of this stuff does. I remember when those things were being used. It’s like, why does a guy restore a 1960s car? Because he grew up in that thing, and so I like the fact that it sort of brings to life and it has a way for me to personally remember when life used to be that way. When you left your keys in your car and your doors were wide open. That’s what that represents. It represents when a man’s handshake was his handshake, pretty much.
Guys my age—40 to 70—they go, “Oh man, I used one of those!” To them, it brings them back home. And the fact that it works.
The transformation is interesting because you’d traditionally find your items in old warehouses. But now they’re in homes.
I term it as the transformation—and that’s a complete change—from rustic pieces of history into functional art forms. Because that’s what they all are. Everything I’m building is functional. That’s the main thing. I don’t build anything that is just a decoration. It’s either a light, it’s a mirror, it’s a table—it’s something.
In the future, can you imagine transforming stuff from this era?
(Laughs.) I can’t imagine. Life has changed so much. … A lot of things [from today] will last, but unless it’s made out of iron, it won’t last that long.
Things are changing exponentially. And I’m seeing this stuff disappear. Twenty years ago, I could have found as much of that as you wanted. You ain’t finding it any more.
Where’s everything going?
Back in the ‘70s when I started this, oh man, you could go out to a farm field and probably for 10 bucks buy five truckloads of iron for nothing. Nice stuff. But I don’t think it will be long before you won’t be able to find this. It just won’t be around.
What area is the best for garage-saleing?
Oh, you want to know the secrets? Should we tell the News and Review? I don’t know, man.
Just a tip?
We could just do it in a block. You say from Alhambra to 65th Street is a good way to put it. And 14th Avenue to H [Street]. In other words, what you’re going to say is this downtown area that we live in is by far the best garage-saleing. That’s where we always hit. … I mean, that’s where we met you! In the summer, we’ll hit 40 garage sales in four hours. That’s a lot.