Douglas Sparks crafts a puppy out of an old muffler.The Fort Mill man turns old spoons, knives and forks into dragon flies. And the body for a turtle is mostly an abandoned, old skillet.It's his recycling contribution. But don't get it twisted.While some people celebrate Earth Day this week, Sparks' Earth Day is everyday. For about 30 years, Sparks has welded people's junk into art."Other people look at it as a piece of trash," Sparks said of his finds that are turned into art. "I look at it as a bird or dog, and I weld it."The self-taught welder and sculptor doesn't get his art tools from a local hobby store."I go to the trash and get it," Sparks said of discarded nails, eating utensils, mufflers, skillets and the like. "Everything is recycled metal except the paint and welding rods."And he uses everything."I made a giraffe out of a muffler," said Sparks, a construction industry retiree. "I make birds out of plow shears."His welding torch also turns old mufflers into big and small dogs."I use the muffler as the body," he said. "Metal pieces from old beds make up the dog's legs."Dated nails become legs for his famous dragonflies and spoon handles are welded into dragonfly wings, he said. Sparks' eclectic art demanded attention among locals so much so that during a recent sell at the York County Museum, Sparks took 49 pieces of art but only two came home, he said.Now, he's busy in his garage making sparks fly from his welding efforts to replenish his stock. Sparks' work -- "A Garden Tree," "A Waving Boy,'" "A Lady with Dreadlocks," and a spider -- grace the front yard leading to Fort Mill's BacInTyme Coffee Cafe on Confederate Street."He's really talented," said Tammy Steinberger, director of arts and entertainment at the cafe. "We have a lot of people asking about his work."About six minutes away, Sparks' yard showcases his skills, including a metal lady that's "kin" to his wife, Paula."There's her sister over there," Douglas Sparks pointed to a metal woman constructed out of miscellaneous car parts. "Her head's made out of a shovel."The hobby turned passion offers Sparks a haven."It's fun," he said before welding last week. "It's relaxing."Yet, welding and sculpting art is so much more. It's therapy for Sparks, who turns 67 come Thursday, but cancer nearly robbed him of that celebration."I do this now because it takes my mind off from it," said Sparks, who did construction work in both Carolinas until 2007.The next year, Sparks' long time doctor delivered some bad news."He said, 'I'm sorry to tell you that you have lung cancer,'" Sparks recalled. "The next thing he said was, 'It's not a death sentence.' But I thought it was. The cancer had spread from lung to lymph node, making it inoperable."Sparks fought his cancer with double chemotherapy and radiation, enduring 37 radiation and 14 chemo treatments over a seven-week period. He lost his hair and his energy level dropped so much that he could barely move let alone tinker with his metals."I just couldn't do it," he said.But six months later, he recouped most of his energy and ventured to the garage, where he picked up his welding gear."You got to do something beside sit around and think about it," said Sparks, who during the early stages of his post cancer comeback turned out nearly 15 art pieces.Sparks had his last chemo and radiation treatments in July 2008. His cancer still lingers, hopefully dormant, in a much smaller size. Meanwhile, Sparks' collection has dwindled to two trees so he's busy working to replenish.And forgetting cancer."When I'm put my mind and body busy doing things, I can put cancer to the side," he said.And live. Just like his recycled metal art.
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