Ernie Abdelnour working on a motorcycle sculpture in his studio. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SAMUEL SHEPHERD

Steampunk sculpture: New life for your junk

BAR HARBOR — If you’re looking for junk, Ernie Abdelnour has it at his home studio in Town Hill.

A steampunk flying machine hangs on display in Abdelnour’s studio. Each flying machine comes with a different “legend” to explain its use in the future. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SAMUEL SHEPHERD

Past the plastic bottles, through a throng of oxidized copper pelicans and near a scrap metal eagle, a visitor will find the 82-year-old sitting on a stool behind his work bench.

“I’ve always been a sculptor, a junk sculptor,” he said. “I do a lot of birds, fountain and the squares, so on so forth. About five or six years ago, someone came and told me I was a ‘steam punk.’”

Abdelnour wasn’t exactly sure what that meant back then, but he embraced the style. Steampunk designs include historic elements and futurist practicality.

“Steampunk is just recreating things, salvaging things and putting them back together in a different atmosphere,” he said. “Like a butterfly goes through metamorphosis, starts life as something else, this is a new life.”

Objects like forks, keys from instruments and door knobs find their way onto “flying machines.” One piece even has parts from NASA, complete with tags verifying their authenticity.

“Each piece is a discovery in itself,” he said. “As you’re looking at it, and you’re trying to identify what I’ve done, the pieces I’ve used, and you can go for weeks just looking at the thing and finding new things [in it].”

Many of his pieces come with “legends,” notes on their possible use in the future.

His legends just occur to him, he said, and each one he writes could lead “to five others.” One of his favorites is an alternate United States where California has fallen into the Pacific Ocean, dubbed “The California Tragedy.”

A legend for a “rat bike” reads: “In the year 2162, the age of air travel. Remnant and decaying parts and logos of early land travelling bikes long now extinct. Being found and restored, in the new rat bike trend reassembling the bikes. Using modern forms of air propulsion to coast through the skies … .”

Before Abdelnour built flying machines, he was a designer, working on clothing and tunics for firefighters in Boston.

“I was just a punk designer,” he said. “I was a patent maker.”

He was working on motorcycles during my visit. He gave up his own motorcycle years ago after a minor accident.

“I had a little Honda for a while,” he said. “A couple of times, I fell on gravel on my hand. My hands are my living, so I stopped. I’m getting old now.”

Abdelnour sells the motorcycles when he visits Florida because he doesn’t like to ship the bulkier creations.

His work includes boats, fire trucks and, oddly, frogs. These frogs range from a one-legged frog that is against “gourmet eating” to another dissecting a human for a science project.

While Abdelnour is quick to downplay his artistic skill, his track record speaks volumes. He said that he could track his work to over 50 countries. He also had a sculpture featured in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“I shipped it in September, he got it the end of October,” he said. “He said it came and it didn’t have a registration number, so it had to go into isolation. They had to bring in a bomb crew up from San Diego.”

Abdelnour will consider other custom work, but you might not always get what you ask for.

“I get commissions, [but] I don’t like them,” he said. “I want to do what I want to do. If you like it, buy it.”

His work is protected by Buddy, a 12-year-old Maltese poodle, or as Ernie said, “a miniature albino Great Dane.” He is fed a steady diet of steak and rice, sautéed lightly in olive oil, and kibble.

“He’s absolutely spoiled rotten,” he said. “He’s a good boy.”

Abdelnour pokes fun at his age as a slight inconvenience.

“I have half a lung gone, I have asthma, emphysema, my heart’s in AFib, I’m overweight, and I’m 82,” he said. “But I’m still alive, so who gives a (expletive.)”

Abdelnour’s works range in price from $165 to $3,000. He said everything he makes will sell “eventually.”

“I don’t make money when I sell things,” he said. “I make money when I make things.”


Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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