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December 1991

Junk becomes fantasy at art park

by Matt Bergstrom

The highway suddenly dropped before us into a hazy valley. On the floodplain ahead a surreal expanse of towers, wires, fences and barracks spread about a large compound along a railroad. The car coasted down into this mysterious industrial machine of a landscape. At one of the barrackaded approaches to the compound on the left a sign notified "Badger Ammunition Plant". A few small houses and shabby lawns across the boulevard seemed just as used and dreary on this gray September afternoon.

At the end of town, accelerating to resume the dreamy pace of open road landscape, we nearly missed it. On a long greenway beside the road, some sort of cannon, like a VFW memorial, raced by without being noted. But then there was something that could not be simply passed by. It advanced toward the road and slouched backward on the lawn at the same time, an immense orange and silver creature. We could see that it was a huge bank vault door mounted on twisting orange pipes like legs.

What we had stumbled across, we’d soon discover, was Thomas Every’s sculpture park. As we were looking around at the sculptures on the lawn, he poked his head out of a fence and invited us to come in back to see more. We drove around through a gate and then on a winding road through piles of washing machines and school busses of Delaney’s Surplus. We reached the end of the road and suddenly entered into a clearing of unfettered imagination. From the midst of all the piles of industrial refuse rose the amazing spires and tracery of Dr. Evermore’s fantasy world.

Overlord Master Control, as Every calls it, is a four story high creation welded from salvaged machine parts and ornate details, a Victorian creation of some Jules Verne fantasy. At its top, a glass sphere inside a copper cage egg is the flight capsule for the lift-off of the imaginary Dr. Evermore. Arrayed around this central tower, monstrous electrodes from a power plant, arching walkways, cable gondolas and observation towers cross over and under each other. Despite its complexity, the sculpture can be taken apart to fit on trucks for transport.

Every showed us some of his smaller creations he had been working on this morning. Three rusty lizard-like robots were welded from assorted parts. He explained that his son Troy thinks up the ideas and names for the smaller robots. We followed Every through his open air workshop to an area where shelves sitting in the weeds were crawling with little robots, many of them painted bright colors. "We live in a world where everything is disposed of," he explained. "These objects were mass produced." But the process of assembling the old parts creates something unique and new. Although there are series of similar robots, each one has a different personality. "It has to catch peoples’ eye," he said.

What catches Every’s eye is a certain valve or pipe chosen from organized stores of parts. Speaking of a movable arm used on a number of the robots, he said, "I’ve got 10,000 pounds of these—I’ll be making them for a long time." The number of works in a series is determined by how many parts there are. And the sculptures usually have some moving parts so that their moods may be changed.

These little sculptures are sold by by their weight like all salvaged metal. A small scale on a table functions as a cash register at $3 a pound. Every would like them to be affordable for all. "That’s the idea," he said, "I hate these art shows where prices are so high the ordinary guy can’t buy." And the sculptures are quick sellers. He showed us the last of five dog sculptures, one of which went to New Guinea. Other works can be found in art museums around the country. Art classes from Chicago and Milwaukee frequently make field trips to the park.

Every’s fame allows him to make enough money from his smaller sculptures to pay for work on the larger sculptures. He is looking for the right place in the midwest to build his permanent sculpture park. Here the public could come to enjoy the larger works. Sculptors could build new structures using scrap materials supplied at the park. Along with the large tower structure, other sculptures Every has built include an ornate Victorian style working barbeque cooker on wheels featuring a huge bellows, and a sound telescope called the "Ear on the Universe" which combines an old movie theater speaker and a sort of gunners seat with telescopes to focus the ear.

Before we left, Every permitted us to climb on the Overload Master Control. We ascended a spiral staircase to a canopied platform with a large seat. From this high perch we could survey the entire expanse of Dr. Evermore’s fantasy world, like some tropical jungle of metal vines sprouted from seeds of scrap. Among his work benches and cabinets down below, Thomas Every was welding again, turning mass-produced machines into beatiful and unique flowerings of the imagination.


see photos of Dr. Everymore's Overlord Master Control

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Copyright 2012 Matt Bergstrom