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Arts & Life

A Look At Sculptor Les Sunde's 'Whimcycle' Wonderland

Installation artist Les Sunde may be known by most for Swampgas & Gossamer, his unique gallery space in the heart of downtown Fort Collins.

But only a lucky few have been to Sunde’s other gallery - his Bellvue home where everything is a work of art.

“Everything you see here should be thrown away,” Sunde, 70, joked. “I just can’t say no. I see potential in almost everything.”

The long driveway is lined with sculptures and parts waiting to become sculptures. An archway built with blocks from recovered stained glass windows welcomes visitors into the backyard.  Everywhere you look there’s something to catch the eye. In one corner, piles of scrap metal, bicycle tires and old fan blades sit, just waiting for inspiration to strike.

One seemingly random pile of junk isn’t junk at all. It’s Sunde’s ‘Whimcycle.”

Looking like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, the three-wheeled bike has been retrofitted with blades from a farming thresher, as well a funnel and a fire hose. The machine’s purpose: to collect laughter in places where it’s plentiful and disperse it where it is not.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Les Sunde sits in his whimcycle.

Once Sunde begins to pedal the bike down the driveway, it’s easy to see how the whimcycle works to brighten someone’s day. At the very least, it gives them quite a story for later.

And that’s kind of the point. If you spend enough time with Sunde, you realize that he is a master storyteller, and so are his artworks. Sunde said his role is to let the pieces themselves tell him where they want to go.

“If you take the time - this has a story, this has a story, she has a story, he has a story… everything does,” he said.

So what’s Sunde’s story? For 26 years, he worked hanging wallpaper,then one day he quit, or, as he put it: “I fired myself when I was 50 – literally fired myself - just to see what else was out there.”

Sunde owned a building in downtown Fort Collins and made enough money renting the space out to pay the bills. That left him free to try out his hand at art. Without any formal art training, he began collecting materials and building pieces.

“There’s no done here, see, there’s just a continual transformation of what comes my way,” he said. “I touch it and I find a place for it.”

His house is more art than house now; Sunde lives in a 1964 Bluebird school bus behind it.

“I guess when I turned (the house) into a sculpture - I quit thinking about ever living in it,” Sunde said.

The home’s entryway door is the frame from an old Sinclair gas station sign. Once inside, there are surprises around every corner and floorboard, including a piano that rises out of the floor at the push of a button.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Sunde built a platform for this piano so that it rises up from the basement.

The house is literally floor to ceiling art, and then some, thanks to the merry-go-round on the roof and the sugar beet tank that, thanks to an old hydraulic car lift and a little imagination, is now an elevator that takes visitors on a slow but interesting trip to the cellar.

An important thing to note about these works: none of them, not one piece, is for sale.

Once money gets into the mix, the art and its intention get muddied, Sunde said. In order to keep his vision his own, nothing is for sale - not even the works at his downtown gallery.

“This was never meant for show and tell,” he said. “So this place here allows me to be with and it allows me to be curious so much of what’s the next next’s gonna be. And it’s a direct line to wonderment.”

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