One man’s junk is artist Sean Guerrero’s treasure

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Sean Guerrero walks through the field where he has set up several of his mobile sculptures on Wednesday, October 17, near Creston.

Combine a mad scientist with an artist and an avid junk collector, and you’ll have an idea what it’s like to meet Sean Guerrero.

Since moving into an old farmhouse off Montana 206 about 18 months ago, the artist’s media have expanded from his preferred chrome to include everything from rusted signs to golf clubs. His creations include whimsical benches, eerie lamps and robot-like creatures in all shapes and sizes.

Over his three decades as an artist, Guerrero, 55, has made a name for himself for his impressive chrome sculptures, which have won fans from Hollywood’s elite to wealthy trophy home owners in Colorado.

But Guerrero’s life almost took a very different — and dangerous — turn.

He originally planned to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, who was six months older and a diver. The cousin found work inspecting legs on oil platforms to make sure the welds were sound.

It was hazardous work, but the money was good, and it seemed like a good path to Guerrero. He learned welding and diving and took a test to see if he would qualify as an underwater inspector.

Two weeks later, tragedy struck. When his cousin, who was only 21, drowned on the job, Guerrero began to doubt his chosen career.

“I started reading up on it and said, ‘This is too dangerous,’” he said.

Instead Guerrero found a job in steel construction. He took home bits of scrap metal from his job and began playing with them in his parents’ garage. Soon he was making small steel sculptures, for which he quickly found a market.

As that business picked up over the next two years, Guerrero decided to try working as a full-time artist. From steel he turned to chrome, having always admired the shiny surface.

It was no stretch of Guerrero’s imagination to see specific shapes — particularly animals — in the curve of a chrome bumper. He crafted horses, sometimes with knights on their backs, along with dragons, elephants, elk, moose and everything in between.

His career as an artist took off in 1983 when France Nguyen visited her daughter in Boulder. The “St. Elsewhere” actress saw some of Guerrero’s pieces and invited him to an art show in Beverley Hills, Calif., once he’d built up his collection a bit.

For two days, Guerrero didn’t sell anything at the show — but he was excited to meet other people he recognized from TV. Then, on the last day of the show, Guerrero sold every piece he had and got several more commissions.

That was the beginning of a 10-year career selling his work among the rich and famous in California. But after a decade, Guerrero “got tired of the whole L.A. thing.”

He retreated to the mountains in Colorado and made his living selling artwork to second and third homeowners around Crested Butte. Then, in the early ’90s, he took a fateful trip to visit an aunt in Paris “and got hooked on that.”

Guerrero happened to meet people in southern France who were eager to sell their property. He purchased a farmhouse for $60,000 and set up shop there.

“You know ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’? I lived that,” he said. “I should have written a book. It would’ve been better money.”

Guerrero had been in Paris for a decade when someone offered to buy his property. By then, he said, he had done everything he set out to do in France and was ready to head back to the States. He lived in Denver, drawn by open spaces and fresh air, which he says “keep you a lot more healthy and focused.”

About a year and a half ago, Guerrero moved to the Flathead Valley to be near his sister and father, who live here. Now he is enjoying the solitude on the old farm he rents  — and the many opportunities he has for acquiring materials to work with.

“There’s a lot of junk up here, and people are friendly,” he said.

Some are possessive of the junk they’ve clung to for years, certain they’ll find a use for it at some point. Those are times Guerrero has to decide whether he wants their scrap metal badly enough to pay quite a lot for it. But others are glad to let the artist find a use for pieces that would likely continue to clutter their property for years to come or end up melted down.

That’s a fate from which Guerrero wants to save chrome bumpers. The car parts are getting harder to find, and many are now available only to people who rebuild classic autos. But he hopes to save those bumpers idling in a field and in danger of going to waste.

“I try not to let these get cut up,” he said, pointing to a large bumper outside his shop that will soon be turned into a Texas-themed bench, complete with a Lone Star State license plate and oversized belt buckle. “I turn them into benches you can sit on.”

For more information about Guerrero, including samples of his work, visit www.chromesean.com.

Photo provided by Sean Guerrero.

 

Photo provided by Sean Guerrero.

 

Sean Guerrero works on a custom piece for a client on Wednesday, October 17, near Creston.

 

Sean Guerrero works on a custom piece for a client on Wednesday, October 17, near Creston.

 

Sean Guerrero demonstrates how one of his mobile structures bends and moves on Wednesday, October 17, near Creston.

 

Detail of a lamp by Sean Guerrero.

 

Detail of found items Sean Guerrero will use to create his artwork.

 

Photo provided by Sean Guerrero.

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