[FORT WAYNE] Though he’s not had any formal training, Ron Ostlund is something of an engineering whiz.
Just ask him about the bug-whipper.
I first met Ron while scouring House of Furniture in downtown Fort Wayne for a vintage storage piece exactly the right size for a niche in our home. Ron was delivering some furniture that he had designed to retail at the store and offered to fabricate something for us. I went home and found him online. I also found out he creates jewelry, too.
Though we didn’t need the furniture, I had my eye on some earrings for Local Universe at www.explorelocaluniverse.com. So we went out to Ron’s garage workshop to learn a little more about just what he does.
Turns out, he does a little bit of everything. Ron is something of a Renaissance man, with the spontaneous inventive drive of a Leonardo da Vinci.
His garage is a jumble of function eventually destined for form. There is a box of gears, some of which show up in the lamps, clocks and tables that he rigs from used industrial parts and old barn wood. There are tools that Ron has retrofitted so he can cut that barn wood or hammer out metal. And there are curled piles of scrap aluminum salvaged at a semitrailer manufacturer just south of Fort Wayne from which Ron makes his earrings.
Ron has a history of making things, starting with toys when he was a boy. “As a child I was always interested in ‘art,’ from drawing things to building toys and other gadgets,” Ron says. “I never considered it art through—I just wanted to make things. Most of my work was built from reclaimed materials as it is today. Growing up poor made that a necessity. Between scrap wood from my dad’s jobs to old electronics, I made some pretty cool things. That mindset and skill set I built as a young child has transferred into my current life.”
He developed an ability to look at an object and imagine what else it might be or what other role it might play or how it might have a whole new purpose. And even more, Ron can take it to the next step, engineering his vision. It’s part necessity, as in the case of the bug whipper (more on that later) and part therapy.
“I don't care if it’s a table, a pair of earrings or necklace or a metal couture bra. I just love creating,” Ron says. “That’s what my work is all about. It’s me taking my ideas and making them real. I have a super active mind, and if I can't make my ideas real, it drives me nuts. Creating things is something I do because I love it, but also because it’s necessary to my sanity.”
The clocks and lamps and furniture came first, and he’s had regular successes, most recently creating all of the reclaimed-wood tables for Tolon, one of downtown Fort Wayne’s newest restaurants.
But Ron hopes to eventually be able to give up his part-time gig repairing drywall and painting home interiors. So when a friend suggested he try selling some jewelry at area farmers’ markets and he saw the potential for another revenue stream, he figured out how to make jewelry.
It’s pretty fascinating to watch his earrings take shape. He’s extremely detailed; when he’s making a hammered piece, for instance, he scrutinizes the reflection to make sure the divots are evenly spaced. He let us watch as he finished a pair for Local Universe.
The magic happens in what Ron refers to as the “shop.” “It’s a typical two-car attached garage that you find on many 1950s ranch-style houses. My space is a damn mess, but I find that’s something many creatives have in common. I know it looks like a mess to those on the outside, but I know where things are. It’s a physical version of my mind, where things seem messy, but they all make sense to me. I just go out there and make stuff. I don't know how to say it any differently.”
He makes not only furniture and jewelry in his shop, but also small structures and machines for the impressive ecosystem that he’s developed in his back yard. Remember that bug whipper? Ron took parts from an old fan and an old grass trimmer, added a light and crafted a gadget that would attract the summer bugs plentiful in Midwest Indiana, snap them and drop them into the pond he dug for his bass, coy and catfish, which eventually will provide a protein source.
That pond is kept healthy all winter with a passive solar heating system, bubbler and filter than Ron rigged from scrap pieces. On top float vegetables growing in a potted hydroponics system; the fish excrete nutrients for the plants, and the plant roots provide shelter for the fish. Ron has directed runoff from his roof to supply water to the pond with each rainfall.
His “function stacking” goes even further. Grass clippings from his lawn and leaves that he asked the city crew to dump in his yard last fall help form a regular source of new soil, as does a large supply of wood chips from the city’s bushwhacking in a nearby culvert. In that soil are planted countless crops, arranged strategically to support each other and make best use of sun and water for a maximum growing season. Many have medicinal purposes as well.
Ron created a greenhouse from storm windows he salvaged from his part-time job and figured out how to keep the temperature consistent with jugs of water heated by the sun all winter. He rotates plants from there into that rich soil that he’s building, augmented by his robust compost pile. He has peas planted around the trees to regulate the nitrogen in the soil and buckwheat to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies. I know there’s more, but it would take another story to tell the full tale.
It’s rather awe-inspiring to glimpse the depth of Ron’s knowledge and passion and witness his ability to implement it. It’s also a little like seeing the creative energy of Ron’s brain spread out on the canvas of the earth, with things whirling and sprouting and blossoming all over at once.
A single dad, Ron engages his two young sons in his ever-evolving endeavors. “I do my best to pass my knowledge onto them as they can understand it,” he says “I want them to grow up and at least have the practical skills that I have, even if it’s not art-based. How to grow food and hunt, how to work with tools and use practical reasoning to fix many different things. Basically, how to be self-sufficient.”
Because of Ron's commitment to the environment, Local Universe is donating 10 percent of our proceeds to ACRES Land Trust in Fort Wayne.
One day, Ron hopes rely less on painting gigs and furniture crafting to make G2G Jewelry, his design brand, the primary focus of his inventive energy. “I want to be an internationally recognized brand,” Ron says. “I know that sounds far-fetched, but you can't do it if you don't try. I know my work goes in many directions, but I think that is an asset more than anything. Yes, I can design and build furniture, but I can also design and build high-fashion jewelry and metal couture. Going forward, I am more focused on just creating what my mind sees, and doing it to the best of my ability.”