A Sabattus Artist Turns Scraps into Sculptures – Down East
By Tina Fischer
Photographed by Clayton Simoncic
From our March 2022 issue
It was 10 years ago, in the detritus of a couple of backyard burn piles that Richard “JR” Pelletier found inspiration for his art. A substance-abuse counselor at the time, he had never tried making art, though he’d felt a nascent creative impulse for years. A few charred garden tools smoldering in the coals lit a spark in him, and from two old metal rake heads, a shovel blade, and a hoe, he conjured a fish sculpture, his first masterpiece.
Since making Ol’ Rusty the fish, Pelletier has done more than 60 such assemblages, taking shape as anything from cars to boats to animals, made entirely from found objects: tools, silverware, toys, car parts, roller skates. His basement studio, at home in Sabattus, is where he sets up when he’s not working his day job, as a sales associate at Home Depot.
Pelletier keeps multiple found-object projects going at once, so he often takes between six months and a year to finish a single piece. One of JR Pelletier’s hybrid vehicles, Buzz and Sting.
Pelletier only recently thought to sell his work. He never intended it as a source of income and felt a certain attachment to his pieces, as if they were a part of him. To date, he’s sold two: an owl called Keeper of the Horn, for $3,500, to James S. Rockefeller Jr., who donated it to the Owls Head Transportation Museum, where he’d first seen Pelletier’s work in a lobby display; and a dog called Faith, for $7,500, to Brunswick art collector Connie Parker Lundquist, who met Pelletier at Home Depot. Now, the 63-year-old is dreaming of a retirement dedicated to making and selling art, although a full-time work schedule and limited tech savvy — he’s content with his flip phone and old Toshiba computer — mean he struggles to promote himself online. For now, his goal is to get his art shown and sold at Maine galleries.
A piece Pelletier calls The American Pickers Picking Maine’Nahs Truck, is built around an old Carolina work boot.
New materials don’t interest Pelletier. Well-worn items get his imagination going. “Each of my creations represents hundreds, if not thousands, of years of history in the components,” he says. “Who owned it? How was it used? There’s a story in each of the parts, and I love creating new stories with my art.”
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Where do you source materials?
I find things in fields, barns, town dumps, Marden’s stores, my Aunt Bernie’s kitchen drawers, and curbside free piles. I seldom know what I’m looking for until I find it. I’m always looking at metal or wood as what it could be rather than what it was meant to be. It’s like the parts talk to me — they scream “Me, me, pick me!”
Can you visualize how a work is going to turn out?
I don’t usually know what I’m going to make. It helps me to find a base, such as an old vacuum cleaner or a carpenter’s plane, and I think, “That’s a car!” When I have a base, the story evolves as I’m building it. I usually have …….