You may have seen Shawn Jennings in downtown Scranton sporting his top hat at events. He is a 1930s, ’40s and ’50s enthusiast who found a way to combine his love for cars with his passion for art. Jennings attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art and earned a degree in graphic art from Somerset Technical Institute. He owns Jennings Turnpike Garage and Mechanical Concepts and lives in Dunmore.
Meet Shawn Jennings…
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I restore classic cars and build hot rods in Dunmore at Jennings Turnpike Garage. That’s also my art studio for my lamps and home decor. I tie the two together, and they cross paths because some of the parts I use are automotive parts. I’ve been into cars ever since I had my driver’s license. I’ve worked at shops fixing cars then branched off on my own and started my own business, Jennings Turnpike Garage. That’s like a form of metal art in itself. The car restoration, hot rods and customs turned into making these lamps and home decor for my friends as unique gifts.
Q: What made the “light bulb go off” for the concept of Mechanical Concepts?
A: One of the things I like with the lights is the artistic side of the shadows that they cast and the ambiance. A lot of the lights have old-style Edison bulbs, which give off a nice, soft tone with a warm glow. When you combine that with the mechanical objects, which are kind of cold and harsh, it blends together. I want people to be able to look at it and be able to tell it’s mine.
Q: Can you describe what gives your pieces that “signature touch”?
A: Automotive and steampunk-inspired industrial home decor. I like the steampunk aspect of it, which I kind of embellish on. I dress that way when I do shows. The Victorian-based era of steam-powered, mechanical things mixed with science-fiction. All of my work is original where I don’t duplicate anything. I’ll have the same concept, but everything is a little different about each piece. They’re signed, numbered and dated, and I keep a catalog record of them all, so it adds a little extra specialness to each person’s piece.
Q: Tell me about Mechanical Concepts.
A: A lot of the parts are from my shop of scrap metal. The parts may not be of value to a car, but it gives a new life and adds to it. As far as the local mechanics, my friends, I go through their piles of stuff, or they’ll put gears, pulleys and interesting mechanical items to the side for me. I guess I got my style to a point where people know what I would want and they save it for me. Also, the fun of hunting at flea markets and garage sales for unique items.
Q: What goes into the construction aspect?
A: A lot of it was self-taught as well as watching others who were trained in the fields. A lot was trial and error. A lot of it is basic wiring. I like to try and make my pieces unique as far as how to turn them on. Instead of an obvious switch, I’ll incorporate an item on the piece that doesn’t look like it’s the switch; for example, a small gear, but there’s actually a hidden switch underneath it. Visually, it looks like it’s part of the artwork, but it actually serves a function. I took the basics of wiring concepts and added my little artistic touch to it. I just start grabbing stuff that I think will work together and assemble it into a mock-up of what it can be. People say “go make me something,” but it doesn’t work like that. I have to be inspired by my surroundings and what I see and what I’m feeling at the moment.
Q: What is the most memorable backstory to a piece you’ve created?
A: One I am working on right now. It’s a camping lantern, and it belonged to her father. They’re not going to use a lantern in their house, and they don’t go camping anymore. It’s a remembrance to her father; she wants to have it to look at. I’m going to turn it into a lamp so she can have it in her house and look at it and remember those days of camping. That one is pretty special.
Q: What has been the most gratifying part of the business?
A: Seeing the people’s responses. I like going to the shows and interacting with people. Whether they buy something or not, it doesn’t matter, it’s interacting, conversing and seeing their response to my work. It’s very rewarding on that part, but then when they actually buy something and want to display something in their home, something that I created from components that weren’t looked at to have any artistic value, now they’re displaying it in their home. To see their enjoyment in having a unique piece is very satisfying.
Q: What are your interests and hobbies outside of the business?
A: A lot of my life is geared toward classic cars, the hot rod culture. I like the past, so the antiques, the era of 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, really appeals to me. I try to live somewhat in those times. I try to dress the part. That’s more of my art side, and to make a statement and my scene with my business and lights. I would dress like this more often if my job and society allowed it more. If I’m at the shop restoring a car and welding, I’m not as dressed up, but I like to go to events with ’40s or ’50s-based themes.
Q: Have you had a time or moment in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A: Probably when I decided to start my own business as far as the cars and having my own shop, 25 years ago. I was working for other people, and I was limited to what I could do. I realized that the only way I was going to continue evolving was to go out on my own, so that was the turning point for me. I started my own business, and it turned into my art. It’s finally come full-circle where I went to school to be an artist and, based on the timing and the age of computers, I was a little behind the times, so I took my other passion of cars and went with that. As time allowed, I combined the two, and I’m hoping that I can switch back to making art a majority of my business.
Photos taken by Emma Black at On&On, 1138 Capouse Ave., Scranton, where Jennings’ products are available