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Washtenaw County Artist Uses Objects Of The Past To Create New Art

Dec 7, 2018

An Ypsilanti man has taken his love for vintage discarded materials and has turned it into art.  But not just any type of art, he’s making robot-like creations out of them.  89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan paid a visit to his workshop to watch the process of unique creation.  


"Sometimes I like leaving the rust on there, you know.  If you have a whole bunch of parts that are all rusty, it’s good to leave it like that to give it that sense of antiquity."

Cre Fuller uses a sand belt to bring some shine back to a small old steel spatula.  The full-time artist works out of his two-car garage on Ypsilanti’s Northeast side. 

"Oh boy!  Yeah, watch out, heads up!"

Fuller has thousands of discarded materials in his garage that he uses to make stationary robot heads and robot lamps.  He calls his collection “Tin Angry Men,” and he started it 18 years ago as a way to decorate his home.

With the garage door open, Fuller cuts an old coil spring on his work bench to create spacers.

"I start with a lot of coffee pots and tea pots, you chisel away, you cut away, carve away, and, sooner or later, a face emerges.  And it’s the little details, the knobs, the random little bits that you can find that add the details and give it the personality."

Fuller uses a lot of mid-century, modern items that he gets from estate and garage sales and even from Recycle Ann Arbor.  They include aluminum gelatin molds, typewriters, and sewing machines. 

Jorge: "What’s the weirdest object or product that you’ve used to make a robot?"  

Cre: "Well, my aunt has to get her glass eye repaired from time to time, so she mentioned that she had spares, so when I got a package full of her old glass eyes, I think that’s pretty weird."

Fuller says some of his robot heads end up looking like masks worn by Mexican wrestlers known as luchadores.  And while they don’t have a body that makes them mechanically functional, they do have a lot of personality.   Fuller describes a red and black one made from a coffee pot from the 1950’s.

"I painted it red for the most part, and I like to layer it up, so I added some brass rivets or copper rivets to go over the aluminum just to give it some extra texture.  I had some sheet copper, so I put the aluminum rivets when I went over the eye.  Kind of reverse the process on the other eye."

Fuller also uses clown designs for his robots.  He looks through a pile of red vintage taillights to use as a hat on a lamp he’s working on.  The lamp has shades of red, yellow, green, and blue. 

Cre: "I have to get rid of some old rivets to make room for the new ones that will mount the new glass lens.  As you can see, his eyes light-up, his ears light up.  He’s made-up of an old glass enameled coffee pot." 

Jorge: "He’s got blue eyes."  

Cre:  "He’s got blue eyes, the light bulbs.  A light shield is his chin.  The teeth are an old tart tin, Jell-O mold for a cowl, an old thermos for a body and I put his head on a little bit of a gimbal so he can rock around." 

Jorge:  "What about the hair?  It’s green."  

Cre:  "Yeah, the green hair, that’s an old Jell-O mold.  I just cut it, spread it out and kind of put it on almost like Bozo hair, but green."  

During the last 18 years, Fuller has made about 500 robots and sold most of them.  He says he loves to reuse items that once served a purpose in someone’s life. 

"This little cookie cutter right here.  Somebody’s grandma punched so many cookies with this thing.  And people enjoyed them for probably years.  So that little knob there has a whole lot of soul."

Fuller says it takes him about 10 hours to make the robot heads and a few days to make the lamps.  Some of his creations also feature old dentures and dental molds that have been donated to him to give the robots even more personality.   

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu