For Salida, Colorado artists Pat Landreth and Suzanne Montano, “outside the box” means exploring a world of their own creation. They call it the Bungled Jungle, and its populated by monsters and creatures of all sizes, along with strange pseudo-scientific contraptions built to measure the unmeasurable.
“We like absurd things,” said Pat Landreth, who opened the Bungled Jungle with his partner Suzanne 16 years ago after doing numerous art shows around Colorado and beyond. “I like things that look like they might be scientifically plausible – things that look complete and factory original. And I like things that make you smile.”
Browse through the Bungled Jungle and you will definitely smile. Creatures of all shapes, sizes, colors, and poses sit on shelves, hang from the ceiling, and reach out from every nook and cranny. Built with a combination of sheet metal, wire, clay, steel, and rubber composite, the monsters inhabiting the Bungled Jungle are surprisingly light, semi-posable, and equal parts bizarre and hilarious. They sport horns, beaks, and craggly teeth, and they range in size from something you could hold in your hand to something a kid could ride.
While Pat and Suzanne never really planned to build and sell monsters for anything resembling a livelihood, their creations have found a foothold and inspired fans to bring a bit of the Bungled Jungle’s whimsy into their own lives.
“Our little town here has been very supportive,” said Pat of Salida. “You’ll see our creatures flying around stores downtown, looking out from behind plants – we’ve infested the whole area.”
The infestation has spread beyond Salida’s high mountain valley, as Pat and Suzanne travel the country to art shows and introduce new audiences to the joy of the absurd.
Together, they started going to art shows and eventually opened a gallery.
Before they ever met, both Pat and Suzanne built creatures of their own designs as children, using whatever materials they could find around the house. As adults, Pat and Suzanne found careers in scientific industries – Pat as a nuclear physicist and Suzanne as a geologist. Their work brought busy times followed by weeks of downtime. “I’d go nuts if I sat there and did nothing,” remembered Pat of those early days. “I started making stuff for myself – experimenting with materials, trying out different things. It really was a self-taught experience."
"Eventually people encouraged us to try and see if we could market it. And so we did.”
But where to market strange, sculpted creatures with snaggle teeth and brightly colored skin?
“We sold a couple to a dentist office, and they would put braces on them,” Pat recalled of some of their first sales successes. “A dentist office is a high-tension place, especially for the kids going in there. The dentists found it was a great way to diffuse the angst, having something light and lively to look at. Then a pediatric office bought some of our creatures to make their clinic lighter, less serious.”
Like all great things, it wasn’t planned. “It just evolved that way,” said Pat.
Pat and Suzanne’s art also evolved, and today about a fourth of their workshop and gallery is devoted to what Pat calls a “mad scientist lab” full of strange contraptions.
“It’s got a bit of that steampunk flavor,” he said of the machines and gadgets with names like Verbal-Veracitometer and Miasma-Disperser that look like a Dr. Seuss book come to life.
Eventually, Pat and Suzanne were able to turn their artistic passion into a livelihood and leave the world of workaday stress behind.
“I was never comfortable working for someone else,” said Pat. “I’m kind of a workaholic, but I want my work to be fun.”
Living in Salida makes it easy for them to indulge their love of the outdoors, and provides easy access to travel far and wide for art shows. While they recognize that the life of an artists has its ups and downs, they’ve found a way to make it sustainable.
“Ninety-nine percent of artists live in poverty financially,” Pat admitted. “But once you’ve adjusted to that and find a good way of surviving, then the rest of life is joyful. You’re not going to get rich doing it, but what a rich lifestyle.”
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As Airstream travels the country in search of unique Round Trip destinations, we keep our eye out for dedicated craftspeople who are passionate about manufacturing quality products. Like like the hundreds of production associates who hand-make Airstream travel trailers and touring coaches in our Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility, they are committed to their craft – and to living their dreams. These are their stories.