FORT WAYNE – Wander and wonder.
The words sound alike, but they are not, distinguished only by the small nuance on a vowel.
Nevertheless, within the tale of Mark Phenicie, a woodworker by trade and an artisan by grace, those two words deserve to be linked, like lovers holding hands.
A visitor does not – cannot – simply walk through Phenicie's 7,000-square-foot warehouse on the north edge of Huntertown. The guest wanders through it. Slowly. Deliberately. But hardly delicately, since items are stacked and strewn everywhere in this windowless maze of scrap metal and jumble. He cautions the tourist to be careful of the 3-foot-wide circular saw blade – its jagged teeth exposed at waist level – that he is fashioning into a table.
Not far away are long planks of wood he will eventually restore, as he vows to do with a courthouse oak table that rests upside down. There are at least four wooden-handle post hole diggers clumped together, just in case they can evolve into something. There are pieces of rakes, fragments of chains, bolts, screws, gloves, marbles.
The outsider will consider it all junk; that it's stuff; that it is a 7,000-square-foot garage sale that has gone off the deep end.
"Your wife thinks you're nuts?" comes the question.
"She knows I am," he says.
But here is the other word which is part of Mark Phenicie's narrative: it is "wonder."
While a wide-eyed visitor may wander across this strange landscape, it is the wonder of Phenicie that earns the spotlight, and a rightful place in this weekend's Fort Wayne Regional Maker Faire at Headwaters Park East. While it is his vivid imagination that concocts a 3-by-5-foot spaceship that can plow across another planet's uncertain surface in the year 2026 (complete with his narration), it is his intense artistry that enables him to build it, weld it and finish it to detail, which includes turning bits of metal frames from discarded political yard signs into the spaceship's intricate make-believe light posts, and a rusted bicycle chain into a gun turret.
His business – the grown-up side of him – is furniture restoration. It is how he makes his living; how he can fill a warehouse and pay a couple of employees and chat from behind his computer screen and wait for the soothing, low chime of a German-built grandfather clock within the crowded, antiques-filled room he calls his office.
His life has been an adventure. A son of a preacher, he wrestled for Huntington High School, went to Vietnam, was a configuration management team leader for IBM, got laid off and tried to make ends meet as a custodian. The darkest days were when he had to accept food stamps to feed his wife and six children.
All along the way, he acquired his father's knack of being able to fix things. That, and the fact he was a pretty good carpenter, enabled him to do some furniture repair work on the side.
Even as a part-timer, he earned a reputation as a master of furniture restoration, so much so that when a rare tornado struck Fort Wayne in 2001, a local business sought him out.
"They told (my wife) they had a truck load," says Phenicie, 60, bespectacled and gray-bearded. "They didn't tell her it was a semi."
So at the age of 48, his hobby became his vocation.
And his vocation spawned a new hobby.
It is in the twilight hours of his day when his tinkering begins.
For four years now, he has been building a fleet of spaceships to land on the planet Kludon and harvest its oil.
Using a cylinder of a B-17 oxygen tank as the spaceship's main body, Phenicie enhances the craft by adding bits of this and portions of that, the way a child stacks Lego upon Lego. By welding the pieces together, he turns a discarded kitchen lamp into a radar device, makes wires from a baby grand piano into the spaceship's cooling system, and finds uses for sofa spring and a meat grinder and a drill bit and spark plugs.
His latest creation is "The Plow," the one he will take to the Maker Faire. The scale, he guesses, is one inch of the model would equal 18 inches in reality – or a craft 54 feet high and 90 feet long that "has the capability of totally annihilating anything that's in front of us."
He has built others to land on his imaginary planet of Kludon, including a communication war machine, the monopod oil refinery, and the deep-space oil recovery helicopter. They are just as intricate, and even larger, than "The Plow."
"I'm just making these spaceships because I want to," Phenicie says. "I enjoy it. It's not that I have to. It's just a love of doing what I'm doing. I make sure every one of these, when I'm done with it, I can go like this (he holds out his arms) and I can say, 'There. I'm done. I like this.' And that's it."