A Junkin’ Journey
Deb and Jeff Hartshorn make discarded trash bloom into stunning works of art.
Creativity is a journey. And for Wirt County residents Deb and Jeff Hartshorn, it’s a junkin’ journey, literally and figuratively. This husband and wife duo scour the back roads looking for treasures—railroad bracing, attic fans, bicycle parts, gas gauges, mufflers, doorknobs, stove grates, plumbing fixtures, motorcycle sprockets, chains, saw blades, old kitchen utensils, colanders, rusted bundt pans, flatware, and lug wrenches—that they will transform into their Junkin Journey sculptures.
Deb has always had an eye for transforming discarded objects. When she was 9 years old, she remembers watching her parents load scrap metal onto the back of their pickup truck when she begged her father to tow an old beat-up Volkswagen van from a field of weeds to her backyard. Deb recalls, “I gutted the inside and added curtains crafted from dish towels. That old rusted heap of junk became a perfect playhouse.”
Jeff’s junkin’ journey began at the age of 16 when he discovered a 1957 Ford truck with a flat tires and a rusted-out floorboard. He purchased the truck for $50 and coated it with fresh paint. Thirty-five years later, Deb joined Jeff, who is a certified welder and teacher at Wirt County High School, in taking a teacher certification class together on art welding. Together they created multiple sculptures for their course. Their one-of-a-kind upcycled pieces became so popular people from all over the state began requesting them. Deb says, “We grew up being taught to make use of what you have and create what you want. So that has become our tagline.”
For the Hartshorns, the family that welds together stays together. “I love that we work together. We really enjoy our road trips looking for great inexpensive discarded odds and ends and then bringing all the stuff back and figuring out how to fabricate the sculptures,” Deb says. “We have a great time.”
The Hartshorns’ metal floral pieces, ranging in size from 4 to 10 feet tall, can be used as garden or indoor art. Each piece can stand securely on its own or be staked in the ground, and no two sculptures are alike. One may be crafted from a collection of horseshoes found at a flea market with a porcelain doorknob as the center of the flower. Another may take shape from a fan shield found in Newark, a motorcycle sprocket from Turkeyfoot Road, and a disassembled wall hanging purchased for pennies at a yard sale. But there’s one thing they all have in common: Each comes with a Junkin Journey journal, crafted by Deb from recycled cardboard, that shares their story of how the journey of each piece came to be. Within the booklet is a personalized luggage tag that includes a “junkin-ology” of the particular items incorporated into the sculpture. Even the cleverly stamped and die-cut tags are made from the aluminum of recycled soda cans.
“We are now being approached by people to create custom pieces for them using their own junk. They will bring us tools from the barn their granddad used that otherwise would be thrown away or old parts their dad had stashed in the garage, or cooking utensils a grandmother used, and they’ll ask us to create a floral sculpture for them,” Deb says. “I feel honored that someone would entrust me with their junk.
Deb and Jeff’s creations become memorials to loved ones. “I think of all the tools that my dad’s hands touched. Things that would have been considered junk—those things become part of the history of who you are,” she says. With their vision, items that often get buried in attics because they’re too painful to throw away become works of art that can be treasured for generations.”
Deb, who has more entrepreneurial creativity in her pinky than most people have in their entire body, also operates the Ooh La La Studio, where she hosts crafting and creative classes for small groups. “I usually have groups of six or seven women, and I provide lunch and we make some type of craft. I’ve had a leadership team here that made earrings. I hosted a mother-daughter wine and cheese event and we made scarves. At a 60th birthday party, we did a mimosa bar and created cards. A bride had a gathering and everyone helped make “save the date” cards, and now Pinterest parties are becoming popular. Someone will show me something they’ve discovered on Pinterest and they’ll ask me to figure out how to make it. There’s lots of laughter.”
Recently, Deb put her party hosting skills to work and held a house party for the Tamarack Artisan Foundation, an organization that helps artists grow and market their businesses. Heavenly Sunlight Alpaca Farm, Spring Creek Soaps & Lotions, Nikki Butler Design, and Aska’s Atelier joined Junkin Journey in showcasing their products to guests. My Thyme Meals and Catering provided tasty treats, local winery Stone Road Vineyard offered samples of their wines, and Bobby Pierce of Hometown Cake shared delectable pastries like peanut butter and jelly macaroons. Breathtaking floral arrangements created by Caroline Waller of Passiflora completed the evening soirée.