Earl Senchuk: creating art with purpose

Phil Niemisto stands by a miniature sculpture of him created by Earl Senchuk. (Photo courtesy of Earl Senchuk)

By Trinity Carey

Earl Senchuk has spent seven of his 68 years, he calculates, inside a drab and unfinished room in the basement of his Marquette home. It’s cement walls form merely a 6×8 space. He arches his neck over the wooden table cluttered with screws, metal, and plastics working diligently on his latest invention. The art and inventions of this Victor Frankenstein can be found throughout the local galleries, businesses and homes of Marquette.

The sense of community that flows through Marquette’s inhabitants is unlike any other. We show everyday what it means to be a tight knit community through our kind ‘How you doin’ eh?’s to passersby on the street, our support of buying locally, and our encouragement of arts and culture displays around town. Some famous art installations that can be spotted throughout Marquette are hand-painted benches and exotic trees adorned in lights, ribbons, flowers and more. These trees can be found in the yards of homeowners, local dental offices and the county post office. While they may appear completely alive and thriving, these “living trees” are made of steel and concrete and designed and installed by Marquette resident, artist and inventor Earl Senchuk.

Senchuk’s work isn’t limited to his living trees. Soon another piece of his art will find residency in the streets of Marquette as he is currently working to create a statue of Marquette icon Phil Niemisto. Niemisto can be seen, bucket and window washer in hand, strolling down Washington Street each day no matter the unpredictable weather of the Upper Peninsula. Senchuk plans to capture the spirit of the Marquette Icon in a lifelike statue he will install in the Phil Niemisto Pocket Park on the 100 block of Washington Street.

Always interested in capturing the spirit of Phil in a work of art, Senchuk first created a small brass and steel statue of Niemisto as everyone knows him best, walking with his bucket in tow. He then photographed Niemisto next to his statue of himself and posted the picture on Facebook. The responses the post gathered made Senchuk aware of just how much people love Niemisto.

“I think that maybe was a part of the impetus that drove this thing to get to a fulfilled sculpture,” Senchuk said. “So I asked [Niemisto] three times on the street ‘Can I measure ya?’

And he said, ‘Ya ain’t pushing me into the grave yet.’ He didn’t want to.”

But now Senchuk’s plans are underway, he just needs Niemisto to do a few sittings for measurements he said.

The statue Senchuk describes as ‘off the wall’ will be structured much like his living trees–a steel and concrete foundation of Niemisto sitting on one of the pocket park benches, a smile on his face and an arm outstretched.

Another example of Senchuk’s art work. (Photo by Trinity Carey)

“Like he’s talking to someone. Telling them a story, but if that person sits next to him it’s going to look like he’s sitting there purposely taking a photo op with them, but it’ll be his spirit.”

Senchuk’s artistry and inventing will collide in the special epoxy overlay to be used on the statue. The epoxy is slightly flexible, allowing for expansion and contraction in the hot summer days and 20 below winters. The overlay will also allow Senchuk to put distinct detail into rendering Niemisto’s clothing. Niemisto’s hands and face will be done in permastone, giving the ‘skin’ parts of the statue a porcelain white hue.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get that guy to do a sitting. He’s always got to go some place. He’s the busiest guy in the world, but he takes these little, tiny baby steps to get there,” Senchuk said. “I’m just dying to get the photograph of Phil next to Phil with his arm around him.”

The Pocket Park statue isn’t the only project currently occupying Senchuk, an “artsy” fire pit for Blackrocks Brewery if they decide to renovate and patents on some of his inventions are all in the midst for this artist. But his biggest project—finalizing a patent on a unique business model he designed himself.

While he can’t currently release the proper name of the business model due to its pending status, it’s what Senchuk calls a “no-factory-needed manufacturing system.” With his model small businesses can cut costs by manufacturing products in their own homes.

He got the idea from running his own business–Senco Inc., years ago on the K.I. Sawyer Air Base. Senchuk said his business model allowed him to compete with large manufacturers like China, because he was able to cut his overhead cost by having much of the sewing on the products he was producing, done in people’s Marquette homes. The products–greenhouses, hunting blinds, fishing shanties, etc.– were then sold to stores like Gander Mountain, Menards and Meijer.

By patenting this business model Senchuk hopes to teach and enable others to manufacture products out of their own homes, he said.

“You connect people with critical talents and find out where they are in a given town and band them together and teach them how to create products that can be sold locally.”

To start off Senchuk  has a few of his own inventions he believes would be great products to sell right here in Marquette such as his Boomer Bloomers–a stand up growing bed that enables people with physical disabilities to garden.

In fact, trying to patent some of his other work is what led Senchuk’s business model to its current patent pending status. He recently traveled to Ann Arbor to present some of his inventions to his patent attorney and a couple business consulting groups. He was then encouraged to proceed forward on getting a patent, not on one of his products, but on his model to create products.

“You can’t get a patent on a business model. It’s really hard. This one, it’s just because it’s so unique,” Senchuk said. “So my patent attorney is now my partner.”

Senchuk believes everyone is an inventor, but most are fearful of pursuing their talents  because patents are expensive and due to the many pitfalls that can come in creating and selling one’s own product.

“The way the system works is getting around the patent issue,” he said.

This isn’t Senchuk’s first invention with the purpose of serving more than just himself. Most of his inventions often serve a purpose much bigger than just himself. He invents and creates to solve a problem or to create discussion, said Michele Tuccini, local artist, longtime friend and co worker of Senchuk’s at Zero Degrees Artist Gallery. A riptide current alarm system, garden beds for the disabled, alternate energy sources, waste diversion products, Senchuk’s work serves great purpose.

“He’s just kind of amazing. His artwork makes statements,” Tuccini said.

Earl Senchuk in his basement workshop.

And he wants to see other inventors making their own statements in the market too. People often think the workload of an inventor is too heavy and patents are too expensive, but that’s just want Senchuk would like to help others work past with his current pending patent.

His business model will remove the large manufacturing company that inventors must go through to get their product on store shelves. By keeping the product away from large manufacturing companies Senchuk believes there will be less chance of “knock off” versions of said product making their way to sales floors–a problem he said the American market is currently rampant with.

He plans to begin the business model right here in Marquette and hopes to be able to pay people $15 an hour to work from their homes.

“It’s kind of like Uber, in the way that it connects people together,” he said.

Each person will provide their skill from their own home, coming together to create one product that can be sold and distributed locally, a system that worked well for Senchuk’s own factory.

“It’s actually a way of creating employment, not only across the U.P., but across all of Michigan. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s so wide open.”

Senchuk has sent out 12 of his own inventions that could potentially work with the business model once the patent is finalized and is eagerly awaiting to move forward so other people can enjoy the profit margin that comes with inventing, wholesale and retail, he said.

“Inventors are usually wacko individuals, me being one of ‘em. They have this one idea of a lifetime and they get so enamored on that one idea. I don’t have that,” Senchuk said. “I have a plethora of inventions, so I don’t mind sharing the wealth that can come from inventing products.”

While he awaits being able to share his business plans and more inventions with the public, this Victor Frankenstein will continue tacking on time to the seven years he’s already spent in his laboratory by decorating local streets and businesses with his iconic art installations.

Visit earlsenchuk.com to view more of his work.

MM

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