Turning Old Machinery and Pianos Into Art

Writer Sue Kern-Fleischer
Photography by Chris Dunker, John Gavrilis, Brandon Wood, and Christopher Maharry

Working with recycled materials is nothing new for artists, but two artists participating in Thunderbird Artists Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival have made a niche for themselves with the unique materials they use.

Mixed media artist Malen Pierson creates whimsical sculptures using old tools, farm equipment and other metal antiquities, while Cindy Clason gives new life to discarded pianos by creating wall sculptures with the old piano keys, pedals and other parts.

The two will exhibit and sell their work at the festival January 19, 20 and 21 along Ho Hum and Easy Streets in downtown Carefree. The juried fine art show features 150 renowned artists who will showcase and sell their original work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

Collector of Found Objects

Malen Pierson, the festival’s featured artist, can best be described as a folk artist, a collector of found objects, and a true innovator when it comes to the integration of old tools, farm equipment, antiquities and all forms of metal. Most of his sculptures are in the form of horses, deer, goats, moose and other animals.

A California native, he graduated from Utah State University and settled in a scenic small town at the base of the Wasatch Mountains about an hour north of Salt Lake City. It was the perfect location for him to draw on his artistic vision, and he converted a 1926 train station property into a home for his family, complete with an art studio.

“I love the history of old tools, tractor seats and other machinery,” Pierson said. “I enjoy discovering discarded materials at old farms, scrap yards and garage sales and welding them into new creations.”

Pierson’s striking metallic assemblages are owned by collectors worldwide, including Robert Redford and Martha Stewart. In 2000, the Sundance Film Festival honored Pierson by requesting that he design and produce all of the awards for that year’s prestigious celebration of film.

Saving Old Pianos from Demise

Cindy Clason is a tennis all-American whose passion is sports, but about two years ago, she tapped into her creativity to breathe new life into her family’s old piano.

“More than 25 years ago, we had to take my childhood piano apart to get it out of the basement. I held onto the keys for sentimental reasons, knowing I wanted to do something with them someday,” Clason, a part-time Chandler resident, said.

With the help of her artist friend, Ron Durnavich, she took the original keys and created a wall sculpture called Heart and Soul, after her family-favorite duet.

Six months later she started her business, Key of C, with the mission of saving gorgeous, old pianos and turning them into beautiful pieces of art.

“I couldn’t do it without Ron. His skill and knowledge have been invaluable,” she said.

Key of C works exclusively with pianos, usually old uprights.

“For the most part, we try to use those that are beyond tuning, their musical days a thing of the past,” she said.

Clason said she loves to talk with people about the special memories they have of their pianos. When she was younger, she aspired to be a musician and can relate to their stories.

“I have a piano, an electronic keyboard, a six-string guitar, a 12-string guitar, a banjo, and I even had a drum set for a while. I just don’t have what it takes to be a musician. The line I use frequently in my art booth is, ‘No, I don’t play the piano—that’s why it’s on the wall,’” she laughed.

Clason will exhibit a variety of designs at the festival. Prices start at $75 for small abstract sculptures to $1,500 and higher for 88-key sculptures, depending on the time and the particular piano used to create the piece.

Live Music and Wine Tastings

Highlights of the January Carefree festival will be the live music of Esteban and Teresa Joy, as well as chapman stick extraordinaire, Bob Culbertson; guitarist Chuck Hall; and Vibhas Kendzia. Vibhas plays a variety of instruments and musical styles, but his specialty is his hauntingly beautiful melodies on the Indian flute.

The festival combines fine art with an extensive collection of domestic and imported wines for tasting. For $10, patrons will receive an engraved souvenir wine glass with six tasting tickets, allowing them to walk the streets of downtown Carefree sipping samples, enjoying superb art and listening to live musical entertainment. Additional tasting tickets may be purchased for $1 each.

Carefree Fine Art & Wine Festival

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, January 19–21

10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Ho Hum and Easy Streets in downtown Carefree

$3 for adults; free for children 17 and under; additional fee for wine tasting


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