One of the projects of which artist Dave Earnes is most proud will be remembered for generations of Lee’s Summit residents.
The time capsule in front of Lee’s Summit City Hall, crystal in shape and constructed for the city’s sesquicentennial anniversary, reaches for the sky. The sculpture of Earnes’ own design has sat in front of the building since 2015, and every night after the sun sets a warm blue light from below illuminates the piece.
It’s one design that Earnes, owner of design and fabrication company Fossil Forge, won’t soon forget. Like many of his pieces, the steel-and- glass sculpture is composed of elements both old and new.
“I just love taking old things and making them into something different,” Earnes says between customers at his shop on a sunny but chilly Saturday afternoon in downtown Lee’s Summit.
Fossil Forge works in materials both tangible and intangible. Earnes and his small crew design logos and websites, as well as metal signs; neon signs; metal artwork; ornate railings, gates, and trellises; metal and glass garden sculptures; and even little free libraries.
“I enjoy building those, but I really love seeing them used, too,” says Earnes, who has lived in Lee’s Summit with his wife and four children for several decades.
Most of Earnes’ professional life has been dedicated to creating art for others, and his working space serves as a testament to his busy life as an artist. Shelves are crammed with old coffee cans containing scrap metal, nuts and bolts. A large, wooden door sits horizontally on a sawhorse in the middle of the room, a saw sitting on the edge, ready to slice into it. Come in on any other day, and you’re liable to see sparks flying as Earnes carefully crafts his next metalwork.
The exterior of Earnes’ shop is just as eye-catching as the interior and features works that include repurposed materials and scraps he finds throughout the area. A metal tree with blue bottles at the end of its fanned-out branches greets customers and visitors at the front door. Behind it, a red newspaper distribution box glows – it’s been repurposed as a small fire pit.
“Here’s a piece we did for the eclipse,” Earnes notes, pointing to a sculpture of a metal sun partially blocked out by an approaching moon and surrounded by flowers.
“It’s a fun piece, and it’s a piece we can change out, too. I love gardening, so as many plants as we can keep around, it’s good.”
Walk behind the building, and you’ll see that Fossil Forge’s reach has extended beyond its walls and into the seemingly unremarkable alley out back. Several small, colorful locks dangle precariously from tree branches in a small lot across the way – it’s the ‘love locks tree,’ as Earnes calls it, similar to the trend of couples leaving padlocks on bridges to show their commitment to each other.
The back wall of the building features any number of sculptures that Earnes and his team switch out depending on the season. One of the most popular – a bouquet of balloons that appear as if they’re being lifted into the air – have attracted plenty of attention from Lee’s Summit residents and downtown visitors alike.
Earnes is excited to take that unremarkable alley space and transform it into something extraordinary – something that is uniquely Fossil Forge and Lee’s Summit.
“We’re friends with the neighbors around here, so we plan to make this alley a true public space,” Earnes says. “It still has the dumpsters, it still has all of the things that alleys have, but we’re connecting all of our neighbors.”
Whether they are near or far – Fossil Forge has customers as far as away as Washington State and Massachusetts – Earnes’ goal is to make the world a little smaller through art, and to encourage individuality through art.
“Don’t just run with the crowd. Be yourself,” he says. It’s a philosophy Earnes says he has tried to live by, and one by which he continues to manage his business. He’s proud to do it, too; after all, Fossil Forge isn’t just a business. It’s his passion, and after all these years, it’s still just plain fun.
“I’m grateful to be able to do this,” Earnes says. “This isn’t just a job for me. I’d do it no matter what. And the fact that we can give back to our city, our community — that’s the icing.”
For more information or to place an order, visit Fossil Forge at 317 B SE Main St. in Lee’s Summit, call 816-785- 3280, or visit www.fossilforge.com.
Words: Corbin Crable | Photos: Margaret Mellott