When Andy Hamilton goes rummaging around at a swap meet or flea market, he’s always on the lookout for the makings of his metal works of art.
What might look like a colander to most instead looks like a turtle shell to Hamilton. Pot lids and air-conditioning gauges are eyes. Hedge clippers and rakes make good wings. Rusty pipe wrenches bounce back to life as grasshoppers.
Hamilton sees possibilities everywhere.
“These two bikes here, they came from a flea market,” said Hamilton, 62, outside his workshop in Lutz. “The guy was just trying to get rid of them. Five dollars a piece. I’ll take the front forks off of them, use them for legs. Chains, I’ll use for manes on a horse.
The satellite dish arm? “This is the neck of a horse.” And the post-hole diggers? “These are the heads for alligators,” he said.
“Potato forks are usually tail feathers for a bird.”
Hamilton is a Lutz-based artist with Twisted Mind Rusty Metal, a company that specializes in recycling old metal and other objects into art. Where other people see obsolete car parts, rusted garden implements, empty bottles and old tools, Hamilton envisions whimsical works of art.
“Somehow, I can see something,” Hamilton said. “People have asked me, ‘What kind of drug do you take? Do you drink a lot?’ It seems like the crazier I make stuff, the more people like it.”
Bins and shelves in his workshop are chock-full of the raw materials of his artworks. He has another collection of salvaged goods that he plans to recycle outside next to his shop.
“You’ve got to have a stockpile,” Hamilton said.
As he surveys his shop, there is stuff everywhere. “It’s a disorganized, organized mess,” he said.
Hamilton hunts regularly for old golf clubs, and often finds them for a dollar each at thrift stores.
“I just cut all of these off the shafts,” he said, motioning to a stack of club heads. The steel pieces become ears for dogs and feet for pigs.
“A lot of people throw these away,” Hamilton said, pointing to some empty helium tanks. “They end up in the trash and when I see ‘em, I grab ‘em.”
The tanks become the bodies of pigs and other animals.
Hamilton, who has spent more than four decades working in masonry, started his metal art business more than two years ago. It started when he decided to make a couple of things for his wife’s garden.
“A friend of hers had sold plants at plant shows,” he said. “She told me to bring some along and see if they would sell.”
They did sell, and the company was born — using a name his wife, Sheila, created.
Over the past couple of years, he has sold 700 to 800 pieces, ranging in price from $35 to $400.
He now spends nearly every evening out in the workshop behind his house, where he sandblasts rusted parts, welds pieces together and paints to create Chihuahuas, pigs, robots, weather vanes, sunflowers, birds and all sorts of critters.
On weekends, one can find Hamilton making the rounds — either to events where he’s selling his art, or at swap meets, garage sales and flea markets where he’s picking up materials he can recycle.
“Starting September through basically March, that’s the busy season,” Hamilton said.
Over Labor Day weekend, for instance, he had a booth at the 13th annual Gulfport Geckofest on Saturday. By Sunday, he was at a swap meet in Bushnell. Monday, he hit the flea market in Webster.
During the off-season, typically November through March, Hamilton spends Saturday mornings in Dunedin at the Green Market. And the third Friday of each month, he’s in Safety Harbor between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. He also does three shows a year in Lakeland.
He also attends the Lutz Arts & Crafts Festival Christmas show.
“Last year we sold like 26 pieces on Saturday, and at least 10 or 12 on Sunday,” Hamilton said, adding he sells even more during the town’s Fourth of July celebration.
Hamilton’s wife is a big supporter of his artistic pursuits.
“She wants me to quit masonry for this,” said Hamilton, who believes someday he will.