ECO CREATOR: Self taught Master Upholster Tommy Fleger (and his pet pig Penny) lives and works in one of the few remaining cabins on Lake Chestermere. He creates unique art chairs by reusing, reworking and repurposing materials, like the two shown here. Currently he’s learning how to work with hides using traditional methods and is planning a giant winged beast (described as a cross between a dragon and a dinosaur) as an upcoming creation.
Photos by Amy Jo Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image
Tucked between mansions and estates on Lake Chestermere, sits an original cabin, old but loved. This is where Tommy Fleger lives and works. He’s an artist, a self taught Master Upholster. He takes the old, the unwanted, the thrown away and makes it into art.
Tommy uses, reuses and reclaims materials donated, thrown out, or just left behind to make EcoFolk upholstered art chairs. He’s scoured thrift stores to find the right pieces to bring his chairs to life. Many take on human personas and the ones he’s working on now include hides to create mythical beasts. He’s teaching himself to work with them, tanning using traditional methods and environmentally friendly techniques.
“My first chair [in this series] is going to be a dragon or a pterosaur, a flying dinosaur. I’m going to use driftwood to look like bones,” he explained. “I want it to look like I went back in time and hunted one of these [dinosaurs] and made a chair.”
Some of his works have included Chairman of the Bored (a with its own business suit), Wild Rest (a cowboy themed chair), The Elephant (based on the parable of the six blind men and the elephant) and Sit Vicious (a punk themed chair).
His artist statement is simple, elegant. “The lost and forgotten. Worn, torn, broken and old. The unwanted, the rejected and thrown away. Often times I feel this way. I need to be reborn, recycled, repurposed and reused. Add some paint. A stitch or two. Hammer here. A touch of glue. A little love. I’m good as new.”
After a couple of minutes speaking to him, you can tell Tommy has a huge heart and a passion for what he does. He lives with his giant potbellied pig Penny, she’s constantly by his side and follows him out onto the dock and fishing cabin out on the lake.
As for his life in the little old cabin, Tommy happily explained that he’s living the simple life.
“It’s one of the last remaining cabins, and these two [his and his next door neighbour's] are the last two standing together,” he said.
Tommy explained that his chair art all started after he was laid off from his job as an upholster for an airline. He went back to school after getting a grant and was told he was an artist, that he should look into that as a career. Now, a little over a year later, his work has graced the Chestermere Public Library (where his favourite chair sits) and Reworks in Inglewood. He’s shown his chairs at Art Central this past February and was recently featured in the Calgary Journal and on Global Television.
“It’s been a good year,” he said. “I’m open to opportunities.”