Strange things for strange people, strangers welcome. This phrase is painted outside of Swampgas and Gossamer: Lost and Found Emporium, an art installation in Old Town.
After owning the building on Pine Street for over two decades and renting the space out to other shop owners, Les Sunde was finally able to open his own shop when the last tenant moved out.
“I waited 22 years,” Sunde said. “I kind of put my stuff on the back burner.”
Sunde had been making art at his residence in Bellevue for 17 years. He decided to use the vacancy as an opportunity to open his own art installation.
“There is a certain time in everyone’s life when you realize if you don’t meet your dreams you are going to be very sorry someday,” Sunde said. “I wanted to go out happy.”
It took Sunde about seven months to create the installation. Its name — Swampgas and Gossamer — means refined and unrefined at the same time, which captures Sunde’s philosophy.
“This place allows an honest conversation,” Sunde said. “I don’t talk money, I don’t talk religion, I don’t talk politics. I talk about what moves it rather than what it is.”
Chris Hutchinson is the CEO of Trebuchet Group — a business that used to be located on the same street as Swampgas and Goassamer.
“It is really fascinating the way he changes the perspective of things,” said Hutchinson.
Sunde encourages those who enter his shop to keep an open heart and mind.
“The smartest people once thought the world was flat,” Sunde said. “It’s no different today.”
Sunde has received a variety of feedback about his installation.
“It’s not for everyone and yet it is,” Sunde said. “To me it was an experiment to change the story.”
Many people who come into Swampgas and Gossamer leave notes in the guestbook. One compared entering the installation to stepping into the wardrobe of Narnia.
“I’ve had people say this is like walking through a dusty novel,” Sunde said.
Through his installation and his art, Sunde has formed many relationships. His partner and girlfriend, Maria Singleton, stumbled across his installation in Bellevue nearly three years ago while walking with her granddaughter.
“I saw a guy with a blowtorch and out of curiosity went up to talk with him,” Singleton said.
She explained that she tries to help Sunde in whatever ways she can. She manages his Facebook fan page and has also helped to give back to the community.
One event, called The Umbrella Project, took place at the art organization Beet Street on Saturday night. The event was a fundraiser for artists that were affected by the local flooding.
Singleton explained that events like this are the real reason for Sunde’s art.
“I beleive Les’ view on life and the way he lives life is what the true gift is,” Singleton said. “That’s why I am with him.”
Sunde opens Swampgas and Gossamer for local art events and on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. The installation is located at 218 Pine St.
“It’s not just for me, it’s not just for you,” Sunde said. “It’s for all of us.”
Collegian Reporter Maddie Buxton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.