Bellingham man turns scraps into works of art
By Maks Moses
Mark Allyn’s small Bellingham home is a tinker’s dream, with its multiple workbenches lined with tools and materials ranging from homemade welds to a vast supply of electrical wires and bulbs.
You may have seen one of his intricate metal sculptures hidden among the more dull parts of the city.
“I cannot go through a day here in Bellingham without somebody either waving at me or honking at me saying, ‘I love it. I love it. I love what you’re doing,’” Allyn said.
There are currently eight or nine of Allyn’s pieces in Bellingham, and he doesn’t plan to slow down production. Another one of his works is slated to be finished in about a month. He said he hasn’t decided where to put it.
“I ask myself, Why be like everyone else? I’m going to be who I’m going to be, and as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone I’m going to keep doing it,’” Allyn said.
Allyn is a do-it-yourself pioneer who uses welding and glasswork to engineer homemade art pieces he leaves around Bellingham to be enjoyed by the community.
Allyn said it is one of the goals to have the art fully used by people, even if that means taking the pieces home with them.
“That’s the whole point,” Allyn said. “To have people take them if they want.”
He also donates some of the art to local organizations like Lydia Place, a nonprofit that helps provide services to people experiencing homelessness.
Allyn was born in Boston in the 60s, where at a young age he grew a fascination for electrical work and engineering.
“I would take things apart in my house when my dad wasn’t home,” Allyn said. “Funny thing was, I wasn’t so good at putting them back together. But my dad knew I was laying the foundations of a career.”
In fifth grade, Allyn started a TV repair business by going to the local dump and repairing the broken TVs. Later, Allyn fixed TVs for students at Tabor Academy in Massachusetts that they hid under their beds to watch Saturday cartoons without the headmaster knowing.
“I think the headmaster didn’t kick me out when he finally caught us because he and the school knew that they needed me fixing their electronics more than I needed them teaching me,” Allyn said.
Additionally during school, Allyn was discovering himself as a person who identifies as queer. At the time, Allyn said he didn’t have time to focus on things like that because he was so busy with other parts of his life, like his work.
“If you realize you are gay and have not come out yet, you first have to ask yourself, how do you think your parents will react?” Allyn said. “Every family is different.”
For him, having a support group like a group of friends is important for queer people to have and finding the right time and place to come out is extremely important.
“If there’s any doubt about the reaction, you might arrange to have a trusted friend close by or by their cell phone to text them if anything goes wrong,” Allyn said.
Allyn’s wardrobe is stitched together and designed from scratch in his living room, and his closet contains dozens of original pieces he wears daily.
Just inside the front door sits a sewing table stacked high with an array of colored, textured and patterned fabrics Allyn uses to create his extravagant outfits.
“A woman once came up to me and said, ‘You’re the best fashion designer here in Bellingham.’ And I was told, ‘Yes, you are the best fashion designer here in town,’” Allyn said.
After his retirement from his job at Intel, Allyn spends much of his time volunteering at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.
“Mark is the best of the best when it comes to volunteering,” Kathy Wahto, an administrator at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, said. “He does all sorts of duties and activities among the church. He shows up right on time with a willing approach with whatever we ask him to do.”
Allyn’s shed in the back of his house is filled with welding experiments and bike frame prototypes. Like his sewing and video production, Allyn is entirely self-taught.
Through his extravagant style and community prominence in Bellingham, Allyn said he is starting to notice his status as a small-time, local celebrity among the community.
“Mark came around here a lot, always wearing something new. We all always liked when he would come and have a chat,” Makenna Schumacher, a Western graduate and former intern at the Pickford, said.
Allyn stores a kayak at the Bellingham Community Boating Center and can’t help but become involved in that organization too.
“We had a big volunteering event right at the beginning of the season, and he came down and definitely chipped in and everyone’s always happy to have him around,” Sam Tanner from the Community Boating Center said.
Allyn said he will continue to brighten people’s days with his positive energy and enthusiasm towards contributing to the community in Bellingham.
“Let your true self show. Be not afraid of what others think,” Allyn said. “Our bodies, ourselves, are ours. Let us decorate ourselves as we see fit, not as you impose upon us. If you have problems with this, look at yourself and ask, ‘Why do I have a problem?’ Then get some real work done.”