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Art with a story
Mark Phenice tells his science-fiction epic in spare parts
By Rod King
Fort Wayne Reader
The sign on the awning of building #10 in the Huntertown Industrial Park reads Phenicie Furniture Restoration, and in about half the building, that’s exactly what happens.
But a dimly lit hallway in the other half leads to owner Mark Phenicie’s office and his “man cave” where he has created a fleet of nine space ships and a story tying them and their mission together worthy of a science fiction novel. The premise is that wars around the world have made things in the United States unstable. The country is deteriorating because of overcrowding and less than inspired government leadership, and the only way to survive is to escape the perils of Earth to the safety of Planet Kludon.
The Kludonites, however, are not very enthused about the arrival of outsiders and have been quite hostile…even capturing some. That’s why one of his ships, the Reaper, is designed to mow down the electrically charged foliage and dispatch the enemy. His first space ship, the Probe, is designed to detect life forms and search for oil, while the Colony is for housing humans. Saturn is the tow truck of the fleet, the Communication War Ship is the fleet’s defense system, the Plow creates a landing strip for the fleet, the Extractor drills for oil and the Deep Space Oil Recovery Helicopter sits on top of the Mono Pod Refinery awaiting uploading of fuel for the fleet.
Phenicie reaches under the Extractor, flips a switch to turn on the sound of an oil exploration drill. Flicker lights on all the ships give them the illusion of motion. And when he turns down the lights and cues the sound track from the movie Book of Eli, the room comes alive.
Each of the three to four-foot space ships weighs around 100 pounds. They’re diabolically designed and carefully constructed of an eclectic collection of odds and ends ranging from lightning rods, piano wire and tuning pins, drill bits, meat grinders, plow shares power line couplers, gears and World War II B-17 bomber oxygen tanks to springs, a French fry basket, bike chain, garden tools, circular saw blades, lawn mower wheels, radio parts and wire from political candidate election yard signs all welded together in the form of space ships.
Though Phenicie loves bringing old furniture back to life, his real passion is his art. “My son, Benjamin, calls it ‘steam punk.’ I really don’t know what it should be called, but I prefer not to label it at all. Each piece has its own story that meshes with the overall body of work. They are for sale, but I’d hope to see them displayed as a group for the sake of the story rather than an individual piece in somebody’s living room.”
In addition, Phenicie has created special pedestas for each ship with a plaque that tells what it does within the fleet. “The pedestal needs to be part of the art and part of the story line. Plain boxes don’t add anything to a piece of art,” he added.
The Huntington native and Viet Nam war veteran, says that making the ships is very therapeutic. “I start with some rough drawings, but the completed work seldom looks like the sketch. Some pieces took as much as six months to complete, and the first one almost a year. Now I use similar parts on all of them, so they don’t take as long to make. It’s gotten so that creating the story is as much fun as making the ships. I’ve got ideas for four or five more ships floating around in my mind.”
Phenicie began his space odyssey in 2007 after purchasing a B-17 oxygen tank which he used as the principle piece in construction of the Probe ship. Prior to that he’d been making more conventional items like candle stick holders, lamps, steel tables and chairs. Other pieces include an ornate guest book podium (also with a story), a 10-foot-tall barbecue grill featuring drill bit smoke stacks that cause the smoke to spiral out the top. A two-foot-by two-foot square box opens to reveal the Bat Cave. His children and now his grandchildren continue to be intrigued by hidden doors, stairs and compartments.
Two of his works — Trojan Crow and Flying Bird Feeder — are presently on display at the Kendallville Art Gallery.
For more information on Phenicie and photos of his work, check him out on Facebook.