You can’t miss the robot towering over Mike Ensminger’s small workshop off Middle Avenue and 12th Street.
It is metal, 10 feet tall, weighs more than 2,000 pounds and looks as if it might come to life at any moment and wreak havoc on the south side of Elyria. It’s made of automotive and industrial parts including control arms, clutch housings, gears, sprockets, cables and angle iron.
Ensminger, 35, has combined his welding skills with a love of art and motion to repurpose old steel and car parts into sculptures. What started as a hobby is now his full-time vocation, and he sells his pieces to various buyers.
He said one of those buyers is I-X Center owner Ray Park, who purchased a smaller robot that is on permanent display in the west entrance of the center. Ensminger said that purchase sparked a relationship with the 92-year-old Park, who encouraged him to create a giant robot.
It’s a fitting relationship given that Park built his multibillion-dollar Park Corp. through the transformation and repurposing of old junk properties into useful properties with new purposes. Likewise, Ensminger’s steel sculptures turn junk and formless steel into fluid art forms.
Ensminger said his latest creation might be displayed outside of a casino in Las Vegas. Park, who travels extensively for business, couldn’t be reached for comment.
“I’m trying to use this opportunity as the catalyst to get my art into the larger corporate realm,” Ensminger said.
Beginnings as an artist
Ensminger said he was always doodling and for years has drawn inspiration for his art from a very old anatomy book that he still leafs through. The book shows detailed drawings of the human body in various stages of movement.
While he was a student at Lorain County Community College working toward a welding certificate, Ensminger said, he created a three-dimensional depiction of Michael the Archangel standing on a demon that was made out of Popsicle sticks. It was one of the first sculptures he took great pride in.
But it was short-lived.
“That was my pride and joy, but it melted in my car because it was hot-glued together,” Ensminger said. “I was devastated, but right around that time I was getting my welding certificate, so I decided to start making art out of steel so it could be permanent.”
From that point on, Ensminger started making small metal sculptures, everything from stick figures to galloping horses and smaller robots. He said people slowly started to take notice.
“I started displaying them at flea markets, and then craft shows at different venues including the I-X Center,” he said. “Then people started commissioning me for private works and designs.”
Art parallels to life
Ensminger, a married father of two, wasn’t always on this path. He didn’t graduate from high school, although he did obtain a GED and ultimately his welding certificate. A decade ago, he found himself in local jails and ultimately serving a year in prison for theft.
“I had a really rough past here in Lorain County,” Ensminger said.
After his release from prison, Ensminger said, he started attending Elyria’s Harvest Christian Church. Six years ago, he and his wife, Krystal, 33, got married and became born-again Christians.
Fast forward to the present and Ensminger has created the giant robot outside his workshop, and the piece is causing a stir in his neighborhood.
As he works on it, people drop in with smiles of their faces and ask if they can take a photo. Children also ride by on bicycles and stop to stare at it.
Ensminger said he likes to think that what he is doing near Middle Avenue will bring hope to a neighborhood that needs it. He was once the kid running these streets and making bad choices. Maybe someone going down the same dark path he once traveled will see his creation and realize they too can do great things, he said.
Just like the jumble of scrap metal next to his garage can be repurposed and transformed into something symmetrical and beautiful, Ensminger said, God can do the same with lives.
As he works on his art, Ensminger said he often has to take a step back and examine each piece as it is put in place. The same rings true in life, he said.
“Every step we take in life we really need to take a look and see if it’s the correct move or not and move forward,” he said. “I’m learning a lot through my artwork and applying it to life. You have to have inspiration and diligence, otherwise things can fall apart quickly. It’s all about repurposing.”
Krystal Ensminger said she’s amazed at the positive course not only his life has taken but her life, too. They both believe they would be dead, as many of their friends are, had they not given their lives to Christ.
“It’s really cool to see the transformation,” she said. “God is into repurposing, too.”
Harvest Christian Pastor Ed Padley said Mike and Krystal Ensminger are very involved in the church, and Padley said he also sees the work Mike Ensminger is doing as a parallel to their life.
“They are very involved in church and have a very stable family life,” Padley said. “They both had a very dramatic conversion out of a life of drugs and alcohol. They made a 180-degree change and metal sculptures just kind of came out of Mike. He really didn’t know he had this talent.”