EVERETT — Amy Knutson can’t paint a lifelike portrait. She can’t chisel a block of marble or cast a bronze statue. But what the 65-year-old can do, she admits, is a bit out there.
The retired accountant takes old canisters, copper mugs, beer steins, toffee tins, kitchen utensils — pretty much any household object made out of aluminum or pewter — and bolts them together. The end results are 12-inch tall sculptures.
“I call them found-object androids and animals,” Knutson said. “And people seem to enjoy it.”
Some people knit. Others bake. But Knutson’s hobby is crafting metallic renditions of cowboys, sailors, fairies and dogs. It’s a way for her to flex her artistic muscles and recycle unwanted scrap.
Knutson assembles about two robots a week out of her basement workshop in Everett. She has created more than 600 of them since 2016 and sells them online on Etsy. The craft helps to keep Knutson busy, which she was especially grateful for when the pandemic hit.
“Otherwise I’d be sitting there, watching TV, making sourdough bread. And that wasn’t going to cut it,” she said.
The first step in building a miniature robot is finding just the right piece that sparks inspiration, like a coffee pot that looks like a face. Knutson sifts through her collection of materials salvaged from thrift shops, antique malls and estate sales. The parts are cleaned and polished to shine.
Then the body, head and limbs are attached with nuts, bolts and machine screws. Accessories like hats or held items are then added, sometimes held in place with glue or magnets.
“It’s just like dressing a Barbie,” Knutson said.
After about an hour or two of construction, voila: a robot. The last step is the breakfast bar test. Knutson sets each sculpture out in her kitchen for a few days and will make adjustments as needed. A proper robot has to be able to stand on its own and isn’t finished until its beady eyes and derpy, slack-jawed expression make Knutson crack a smile.
“If it doesn’t make me laugh, I keep trying,” she said.
Knutson first got the idea for her android art in 2016 from the image-sharing website Pinterest. One day she came across some photos a user shared of toy trucks made out of old tins and faucet handles. That was the first time she read about the term “found-object art,” which involves repurposing existing objects into a work of art.
She liked the concept and searched Google to see what other found-object things people had made. Images of metallic humanoids popped up and Knutson was inspired. She worked together with her husband, an electrical engineer, to figure out how to make ones of her own.
It was hard at first trying to figure out which materials to buy. It was trial and error. Early on she threw out many things she thought would be usable.
“I have friends who tried to bring me parts and I discouraged them because it’s hard for me to find things I want and so other people are usually wasting their money.”
It was a curiosity that soon became an addiction.
“I like to save pieces, things that aren’t useful anymore, to turn them into something that’s going to make people smile,” Knutson said. “And I have fun doing it.”
Knutson never planned on selling them in the beginning. In fact, she never thought a person would ever pay money for one at all. But as the robots invaded and slowly took over her home, she had to find something to do with them.
“I quickly figured out, unless I want to be the crazy lady with stuff over her house, I was going to have to get some people to buy them,” she said.
So she launched her virtual store on Etsy under the name “VintageAndroidArt”. And it turns out she was wrong about the lack of demand. She has sold more than 400 robots with no signs of sales slowing down anytime soon. She sells them for between $95-$275.
“I don’t think it’s a bestseller, but three of my pieces are in there,” she said.
Knutson’s robots aren’t toys. They are sturdy but only meant for display. She isn’t entirely sure about the kind of person who buys her art. She made one piece to look like a stereotypical “hipster” and a woman bought it and said it resembled her husband.
“It’s an espresso pot. And somehow I had made him so it looked exactly like her husband,” Knutson said. “That confused me but something about it spoke to her.”
She also knows of a few people who have bought her dog sculptures to hold their deceased pet’s ashes. In fact, Knutson’s father’s ashes reside in a sailor robot she gave him when he was alive.
“He said I’d like to spend eternity in that little sailor,” Knutson said. “So it’s not just for animals.”
But for Knutson, it doesn’t matter who buys them or why. She plans to continue to make them as long as the hobby brings her joy.
“I didn’t start to make money. I started for fun. And then I had to sell them so I could keep making them,” Knutson said. “That’s probably a good lesson there, isn’t it? Do what you love. That’s what they say anyway.”
To contact Knutson or to buy her art, visit etsy.com/shop/VintageAndroidArt