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Turning junk into art: Davenport man opens 'up-cycling' boutique
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Ryan Orr of Re:form Designs in Davenport with some of the components used to make his Mac computer table.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Ryan Orr of Re:form Designs in Davenport with some of the components used to make his Mac computer table.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Ryan Orr of Re:form Designs in Davenport with some of the components used to make his Mac computer table.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Ryan Orr of Re:form Designs in Davenport with some of the components used to make his Mac computer table.
DAVENPORT -- Ryan Orr is an artist, but he jokingly gives himself the title "mad scientist."

"I look at a scientist as someone who combines many different types of knowledge to come up with something. As for the mad part -- you do have to be just a little bit goofy or be a little bit of a different thinker like an artist. Combine the two, and that is what makes my work what it is."

Mr. Orr, 36, of Davenport, is owner/CEO of re:form, an up-cycling boutique offering his unique designs. He takes items such as old computers, plasma screens, bicycle parts and even an automobile trunk and turns them into wall art, sculpture and furniture.

Up-cycling is different from recycling, which is a process of breaking something down to create a new product. Up-cycling uses core parts of an item or product to create something new.

Mr. Orr said re:form was a long time in development, and he loves what he does. "It is very easy to say that because you start doing it because you have an idea you are passionate about and it evolves from there."

Mr. Orr launched his company in 2011 with "Crunching Numbers," a coffee table crafted from retired Macintosh G3s. He has patented his design, which has gained international interest. Three of his custom-made tables were shipped to Israel.

Some of his commissioned work has included "Do Not Touch," a three-piece steel wall sculpture made from a 1992 Ford Crown Victoria trunk lid. He now is working on "Writer's Block," a custom-built bookshelf made, in large part, with typesetter blocks.

In 2013, Mr. Orr was recognized with the Innovator Award from the The Network of Young Professionals.

He said his focus on up-cycling was sparked by his regular line of work in the technology field. "When something became outdated or the trends changed, there really wasn't a second life for those things. There were two choices: it was put in a Dumpster or thrown into storage to collect dust for who knows how long," he said.

The choices for reuse were slim. Making an aquarium from an old computer monitor is fine and dandy, but Mr. Orr said he thought there had to be a fun second use that would change the object from one someone wanted to kick to the curb to something they wanted to show off.

He wanted that "something" to hold a bit of nostalgia, too. "You always run into people who say, 'Gosh I wish I had my old blank back," he said, giving the example of a favorite childhood toy. "Certain things are going to have a vintage look and bring up nostalgia in someone's eyes. Now they can be turned into something you can use, show off again, display and enjoy," Mr. Orr said.

He said his fourth-grade art teacher, Lynn Hirsch, had a big influence on his life. "She made me like art. It was the approach she brought to art class. She made it fun to explore, asking what would happen when you do this or work with something you never worked with before? We did a lot with mixing mediums," he said.

He continued to follow his interest in art through junior high and high school, where he also started learning technical skills.

In re:form, he combines his artistic and mechanical abilities. "It has to look good and work well," Mr. Orr said.

He said it is easy to capture the look of something on a piece on paper. "The mechanical side is often tougher. You have to figure out all the pieces you have to have to make it look that way," Mr. Orr said.

Making it more difficult is that many of the pieces and parts he uses aren't available at the corner hardware store. "They have to be made, or they have to be located, or have to be a certain grade," he said.

Mr. Orr's wife, Amy, said her husband doesn't let anything confine him. "Just because he doesn't know how to fabricate it or pull it together doesn't stop him from trying to figure it out or question if it will really work," she said.

"He always says, 'Yes, that will work. Now we need to find the expert who can tell me how we can make it happen," she added.

"We" is a seamless word for Mr. Orr, who said he can't do everything and willingly turns to others for help. He describes it as one artist respecting the work of another artist.

"Some of my artists are engineers, fabricators, welders, people who have mastered a skill or trade that helps me make my work possible. Allowing them to be experts when I need their expertise, guidance or knowledge to make something work is priceless," he said.

Receiving the Innovator Award last year was unexpected, Mr. Orr said. "There are a lot of people doing a lot of cool and noteworthy things in this area," he said. "I respect and honor their work as much as they do mine.

"It is nice that someone stopped to take note and say they think what I am doing is cool, too. You get into your work and try to focus on these things. and you are not doing it for the award. You are not doing it for the recognition. You are doing it because you are passionate about the idea or you are trying to make a client smile," he said.

Mr. Orr has no plans at this time to devote full time to re:form. He wants to let it grow organically on its own. "You can't force art. It is not one of those things like when you produce a commodity, like vehicles or clothing, where you can produce 10,000 and put them out there and people will buy them," he said.

"Art is a very subjective medium and beautiful only to the specific buyer," Mr. Orr said.

Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept. 16, the 259th day of 2014. There are 106 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: A fine lumber mill is on the course of erection at Andalusia. A flouring mill at that location is doing a fine business.
1889 — 125 years ago: J.B. Lidders, past captain of Beardsley Camp, Sons of Veterans, returned from Paterson, N.Y., where he attended the National Sons of Veterans encampments.
1914 — 100 years ago: President Wilson announced that he had received from the imperial chancellor of Germany a noncommittal reply to his inquiry into a report that the emperor was willing to discuss terms of peace.
1939 — 75 years ago: Delegates at the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church in Springfield voted to raise the minimum pay of ministers so that every pastor would get at least $1,000 annually.
1964 — 50 years ago: An audience of more than 2,600 persons jammed into the Davenport RKO Orpheum theater with a shoe horn feasted on a Miller-Diller evening that was a killer night. Phyllis Diller sent the audience with her offbeat humor. And send them she did! It was Miss Diller's third appearance in the Quad-Cities area.
1989 — 25 years ago: A few years ago, a vacant lot on 7th Avenue and 14th Street in Rock Island was a community nuisance. Weeds grew as high 18 inches. Today, the lot has a new face, thanks to Michael and Sheila Rind and other neighbors who helped them turn it into a park three weeks ago.

(More History)