Milton Neeley: A different kind of heavy metal artist

Mar 25 2012 - 8:24am

Images

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Milton Neeley and his dog Chewey pose for a portrait in his workshop near his home in Hooper.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
Neeley took a grinder to the aluminum sheeting he has wrapped around his home to design a tree scene.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
Neeley built this building beside his house for his workshop.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
This circle filled with rectangle shapes was created by Milton Neeley.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Neeley poses for a portrait with a piece of his artwork at his home in Hooper.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
This metal frog is one of Neeley's creations.
KERA WILLIAMS
Neeley created this cabinet front out of stainless steel.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
Metal work by Milt Neeley of Hooper adorns the entrance to the Children's Adventure Garden at Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Garden.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
Neeley built this swing in the Children's Adventure Garden at Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Garden.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This topiary worm graces the Children's Aventure Garden at Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Gardens.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This teapot was created by Milt Neeley of Hooper for the City of Meriden, Conn.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This curved staircase at Davis Medical Center, by Milt Neeley, is made of babinga wood, glass, stainless steel, steel and cement.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This yellow ball made from nuts and bolts, by Milt Neeley of Hooper, was sent to North Dakota. The scupture has a solar light inside that lights up at night.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Milton Neeley and his dog Chewey pose for a portrait in his workshop near his home in Hooper.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
Neeley took a grinder to the aluminum sheeting he has wrapped around his home to design a tree scene.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
Neeley built this building beside his house for his workshop.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
This circle filled with rectangle shapes was created by Milton Neeley.
KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Neeley poses for a portrait with a piece of his artwork at his home in Hooper.
KENDAL RUSSELL/Standard-Examiner
This metal frog is one of Neeley's creations.
KERA WILLIAMS
Neeley created this cabinet front out of stainless steel.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
Metal work by Milt Neeley of Hooper adorns the entrance to the Children's Adventure Garden at Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Garden.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
Neeley built this swing in the Children's Adventure Garden at Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Garden.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This topiary worm graces the Children's Aventure Garden at Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Gardens.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This teapot was created by Milt Neeley of Hooper for the City of Meriden, Conn.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This curved staircase at Davis Medical Center, by Milt Neeley, is made of babinga wood, glass, stainless steel, steel and cement.
Photo courtesy Milton Neeley
This yellow ball made from nuts and bolts, by Milt Neeley of Hooper, was sent to North Dakota. The scupture has a solar light inside that lights up at night.

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Milton Neeley's home is looking its age.

"They say it was built in 1958," he said of his Hooper house. "There isn't a thing I can do to it that won't make it better -- anything I do to it is an improvement."

So, Neeley bought a siding bender and started covering the home in aluminum. Not traditional aluminum siding, but large sheets of shiny metal.

"I intend to cover the whole thing," he said. "I've got one end done so far, and I've started on the front."

Neeley says one of his metal suppliers asked if he was married, followed by the question, "How does your wife feel about this?"

He's not married, but his girlfriend, Jan Postel, doesn't have a problem with the aluminum.

"It fits him," she said.

Neeley was a little concerned about what city officials might think of the new exterior.

"I went to the building inspectors for Hooper, and checked with them to make sure I didn't need a permit," he said. "They said nope, I didn't need a permit because I wasn't tearing anything off, just going over the top of it."

That leaves just the neighbors to worry about. Neeley understands that some folks might not like living near an aluminum-covered house, although no one's said anything.

Chris Packer, who lives across the street, thinks it's "awesome."

"It's just different, and adds a little color to the neighborhood," he said. "He's pretty creative, so I think it looks good."

The house

Neeley's a metal artist, and he's turning the entire house into an art project.

"I take a grinder, and I grind designs in it," he said.

The main design elements on the home's finished side are a tree and a heart. He hasn't decided what he'll put on the rest.

"It's going to be a lot of area to cover, so there's no set theme -- just whatever I decide to do," he said.

Inspiration comes from the things he sees.

"Trees and flowers are always a favorite," he said, adding that animals are always good as well. "For some reason, it's really easy to do people."

Neeley says the way the grinder moves over the surface tends to create lines that viewers interpret as the human form, but he doesn't usually keep those.

"I'll start doing it, and they'll say, 'Oh yeah, I see a person there, and it looks like they're naked, and it's like, oh, I've got to change that," he said.

When the whole house is finished, Neeley will seal the art with a transparent automotive finish -- and maybe add some transparent color.

The building

Even before Neeley started covering his house in aluminum sheeting, his lot was well-known in Hooper. Metal statues created by the artist sit in the yard, although it's his studio that initially grabs the eye.

"They don't know my name, but they know I've got a building," Neeley said of locals. "They use it as a landmark. They say, 'Go to the place that looks like a giant gazebo, here's where you go from there.' "

He started building the large, multisided structure about four years ago, and finishes more as he can afford it. Most walls are covered with corrugated metal, but Neeley created large decorative gates to move big projects in and out. The studio roof is topped with a metal bird that lights up at night.

The artist

Neeley didn't start out as an artist with a flair for large-scale projects.

"I was very conservative, studying economics," he said.

He hoped to go into international business, but graduated during the recession of the 1980s. He wound up buying, with family, an ornamental iron shop. The business added wedding and Christmas decorations to its offerings, and made several pieces on display in Layton and Ogden parks during the holidays.

"We were making about 2,000 display pieces a year, and shipping all over," said Neeley.

During the busiest times of the year, he had as many as 20 employees.

"Sometimes I joke and say at 40 I had a mid-life crisis and decided I wanted to be an artist instead of a business operator," he said.

He downsized the business, mostly because of economic challenges, but he really did want to become more involved in the creative side.

"I had artists working for me, and I wanted to do the art myself," he said. "Art was kind of a therapy-type thing."

He learned to work with all kinds of metal, creating not only illuminated holiday decorations, but everything from sculptures to two-dimensional wall hangings.

"I like to be flexible, and it's fun to learn something new," he said, explaining that each new idea involves research and learning new techniques.

The change from business owner to artist was satisfying.

"It's not as profitable, but it's fun -- every day is arts and crafts," Neeley said.

The art

Neeley makes money on architectural projects like the metal, glass and wood staircase he built for the Davis Hospital and Medical Center -- a big job for which he hired some help.

He doesn't tend to go after run-of-the-mill commissions.

"I like something that has a little more attraction -- something that's going to leave a 'Wow, that's cool,'aaaa" he said.

Among past projects are a sign for an Ohio zoo and a metal rattlesnake for Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City.

The most memorable project, he said, was for the children's area of Virginia's Norfolk Botanical Garden.

"I built a worm that was, oh, 150 feet long, and took like six semis to haul up there," he said. "I also got to do the entrance to the children's garden, and they also commissioned me to do some entrance gates to the garden itself."

He had to finish the bronze, copper and aluminum work on-site.

"They came out and watched me as I was attaching leaves and vines to their entrance gates," he said.

He's returned to the site, and said it was very gratifying.

"It was fun to watch the kids climbing on this worm," he said.

When money's tight, there aren't as many commissions, but Neeley says there is an upside to a down economy.

"Now's a great time for innovation," he said. "When business is slow, usually you've got a little more time. ... I try new things."

His latest experiment is with stainless steel headstones, each designed to hold a time capsule.

"Stainless steel is timeless -- it will be around until they melt it down," he said, adding that lettering won't fade over the years. "Some people want to be immortal."

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