Davidson creates household items from farmyard elements

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WANAMINGO, Minn. — Dave Davidson may never transport back in time to milk cows, but he can light his house with memories of farming.

Davidson has made 25-30 household items, such as lamps, out of upcycled pieces from his stanchion barn, machinery and other old materials. His assemblages are one-of-a-kind art pieces that serve practical purposes.

“It’s not supposed to be perfect,” Davidson said. “It never was.”

Davidson grew up on a 40-cow dairy farm and later dairy farmed himself for 16 years near Wanamingo. Then, he spent the rest of his career working in maintenance for a country school before retiring.

One of Davidson’s creative household designs is a lamp made from drinking cups from the stanchion barn.

Each lamp is constructed with a drinking cup standing on a wooden base and then topped with a glass lamp globe. His creation won reserve champion at the Goodhue County Fair, placing behind another of his pieces, a lamp made from a tractor air filter.

Davidson also recreated a stanchion setup with the stanchion and drinking cup mounted together on a wooden base as well as several other small pieces.

“I hope they see that (my pieces are) different, one of a kind,” Davidson said. “I have a cow stanchion (in the basement) that’s kind of an abstract. It’s missing the cow. … It’s all there except the cow.”

The stanchion is Davidson’s way of preserving the past.

“That’s important to me, because that’s history,” Davidson said. “There are not very many stanchion barns left.”

Davidson has also made lamps from metal pipe. He took piping from the front of the stanchion, assembled it into abstract forms and equipped it with light bulbs. The finished project is at once modern and, at the same time, grounded in the past.

To make his art, Davidson begins by bringing in the base piece, such as a drinking cup, and cleaning it. He uses soap and water, sandpaper and different-sized scrapers to get them ready. He uses a bristle attachment on his drill to take off much of the debris.

Davidson also goes to thrift stores or auctions to look for pieces that he can use to create his works of art. He said pieces made of brass or another metal can be cleaned to a shine.

“Most of the stuff I make stuff out of is junk,” Davidson said. “If I have $5 to $10 in these things, that’s about the extent of it.”

Davidson takes the initial pieces of his projects one of two ways. He either chooses to keep them original by cleaning them and painting on a clear coat to seal. Or, he will fully sand them down and repaint them.

“It’s always cruddy and dirty and rusty and ugly,” Davidson said. “You start with manure on it and everything and grease. … It’s pretty well used and bent or the bolts are rusted together.”

Davidson’s upcycled home pieces started with an old tractor. About 10 years ago, Davidson purchased the Massey-Harris 44 that his father had sold in 1976.

“When I got that tractor back, I wanted to do something with it,” Davidson said. “I knew I couldn’t get it to run ever again. The motor is not there. I just had to take what I had.”

His first project was to create a lamp out of the air cleaner. Davidson said the piece is his favorite.

“It was my tractor,” he said. “I drove that thing everywhere.”

Davidson created a bookshelf out of the fenders. He has the steering wheel for the tractor, which he said he hopes to use in a project.

To decide how to assemble pieces, Davidson begins by laying out the assortment he has to work with.

“I think (what) is going to look cool or interesting, and then I start placing things,” Davidson said.

Davidson said that even after a project is complete, he will sometimes take it apart again.

When Davidson creates, he said he keeps weight in mind. If a piece is too heavy, it is difficult for it to be used. To keep the weight down, he limits the number of pieces included in a single assemblage.

Davidson always makes sure any electrical components are completely hidden except for the actual cord and plug in.

“I try not to add anything that would look like, ‘Well, this is how he did it,’” Davidson said. “I want it to look like ‘Oh, how did he do that?’”

Davidson has mostly been creating pieces for himself and his immediate family and friends.

“I just like looking at it,” Davidson said. “If I got rid of it, then it would be gone. I’ve sold some of my antique tractors, and sometimes you regret it. … All you have is the money, and you can’t look at money.”

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