When Judson Jennings came to a fork in the road, he took it -- the fork, that is.
Jennings picked up the fork and made the decision to start a career as an artist. He uses welding equipment and his imagination to create sculptures from silverware, and he'll be selling his "Forked Up Art" Saturday at the Ogden Arts Festival.
Jennings, of North Salt Lake, says his stainless steel artwork is easily cleaned -- just throw it in the dishwasher. But that's not the primary reason people want it.
"I think it's just because it's unique," he said.
The silverware sculptures also make people laugh.
"They're a great conversation piece," said Jennings.
Jennings' figurines stand on feet made of spoons, and have hands made from forks. Heads are styled from either forks or spoons.
"I used to do knife heads, but I was worried about liability," he said.
The sculptures come in a variety of poses. Many are designed for use in the kitchen, where you'd expect to see silverware. A spoon-headed guy holds salt and pepper shakers; his fork-haired friend clutches napkins. There's also a recipe holder and a figurine that holds scouring pads.
Jennings makes figures that display business cards and hold bottles of hand sanitizer. Just for fun, he's created characters with fork-tine fingers making a peace sign and the "rock on" hand sign.
One of his newest figures, designed with Father's Day in mind, is a golfer with a club made from a spoon.
"I haven't been able to find a good pose for a baseball player, so I went with a Babe Ruth," Jennings said, describing a sculpture with a whisk for a bat, and a tine finger pointing to where the ball will go.
He buys some of the silverware through restaurant supply stores, to make sure feet and hands match. For other parts, Jennings shops at Deseret Industries.
"If you go to the Bountiful D.I., they've got no silverware left. I go up there on a weekly basis, and just kind of clean out what they have," he said.
Jennings' "Forked Up Art" figures were born shortly after his mother-in-law decided to throw out some old silverware.
"I've been a welder since I was 16, and I just put two and two together and came up with a nifty idea," he said.
Jennings and his father had joked about bending the tines of a fork to make it look like a hand gesture that usually upsets people.
"Only instead of doing a single fork, I built a whole guy," he said.
Jennings was soon creating silverware people in more respectable poses. A few of the sculptures were suggested by customers; most came from Jennings' imagination.
His most popular sculpture, a guy that holds an iPhone, came to him in the middle of a test at the University of Utah.
"There was a question on cell phones," Jennings said. "I thought, 'I could make one that holds an iPhone,' and really, when you tag something along with the iPhone, it's going to succeed."
Forking up dough
Jennings just graduated from the U of U, with a degree in business administration, but he started his "Forked Up Art" business while still a student.
"I really couldn't find a job during college," he said, adding that he has a family to support and is living in his mother-in-law's basement. "People say that in a recession is when ideas come to life and creativity really comes out."
So about seven months ago, he offered his work for sale through Etsy, an online marketplace for handcrafted arts and crafts.
"I never really realized the power of the Internet until this happened," said Jennings, explaining that his iPhone holder got noticed on Etsy by someone at the website iPhone Savior.
"It bounced off of there to a website called tuaw.com, which is the unofficial Apple weblog," he said. "From there it bounced to cnet.com."
CNET reviews tech products, and someone with the site asked Jennings if he could post information about the iPhone holder.
"He posted it at 9 o'clock in the morning, and by 10 o'clock I had probably 45 e-mails saying 'You've got an order.' I literally got sick to my stomach thinking of the amount of this I would have to do," Jennings said.
"I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up with it, but with some family help with the logistics, getting shipping all taken care of and making sure orders matched what was going out, it really took off and I really saw the potential to go full time."
Now he's selling about five items per week online, showing at arts and farmers markets, and plans to open a kiosk at The Gateway in Salt Lake City.
Artist at work
Jennings, who grew up in Deweyville, tried welding as part of a high school agricultural mechanics class. He certified at the local applied technology center.
"It's pretty much the only thing to do in a small town like that," he said. "It's either that, farmwork or milking cows."
He never in a million years thought he'd become an artist.
"Some of my family makes fun of me for it. They're like, 'Oh, Judson the artist.' But I tell them no -- it's 'Judson the welder' or 'Judson the business owner.'aa"
But he really does enjoy the artistic challenge of turning stainless steel utensils into art.
"It's fun and, really, the sky is the limit," he said.
- WHAT: Ogden Arts Festival
- WHEN: 6-9 p.m. today, 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday
- WHERE: Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave., and the 100 block of Historic 25th Street, moving inside the station in the event of rain
- ADMISSION: Free, except evening film screenings. www.ogdenartsfestival.com.