ST. GEORGE – Artist Allen “AJ” Unrien, of St. George, has made a living out of a hobby using recycled automobile metal, brass welding rod, deer antlers and other abandoned items to bring new life to old materials.
“I was a suspension and brake specialist for years,” Unrien said. “I just started toying around about 25 years ago because I was right next to the body shop and I had a little time on my hands. I wanted to do something that nobody else did. I wanted to be an artist my entire life, it’s the only thing I ever made straight A’s in.”
One of his flagship metal pieces is a Spanish galleon currently in a display window located at McArthur Jewelers on Main Street in St. George. An old Wells Fargo style stagecoach and other pieces are on display and for sale at the Datura Gallery, located in the Coyote Gulch Art Village in the Kayenta subdivision of Ivins.
“If a person wants a ship, I’ll ask them what they want,” Unrien said. Do they want a galleon, or a gun boat, or a square rigger? They’re all different. For instance, a big county attorney from Los Angeles brought me a whisky bottle with a ship on it. A big square rigger. I told him it’d be no problem. I’ll design them, then shape them, and then build them. I’ll weld them, then braze them, then clear coat them. They look so cool.”
Unrien takes about a month to work on each piece, making sure that no two items are the same. While he has his art displayed several places across Washington County, he said, he has struggled to find someone who is willing to work with him on a reasonable compensation.
“I’ve got a real heartburn of letting these places get 50 percent of my artwork,” Unrien said. “That’s really hard to do. When I do something like this, let’s say I’ve got $30 in materials, and i’m selling it for $125. They’re getting half right off the bat. After my materials and everything, that leaves me with $35 to $40.”
Unrien has also been recognized by a Dixie High School program for donating trophies for a golf tournament in 2013, he made unique trophies for the Boy Scouts and most recently made trophies for the 2014 Sand Hollow Sailing Classic.
“I try and give them a wood effect, or an antique effect. Nobody has ever duplicated my work,” Unrien said. “People will see it and find out it’s automobile metal and ask how I bend it. It takes time. But I’m just not going to do anything like anybody else. My work is nice.”
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