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Todd Peters breathes new life into old things

In his role as the Heavy Metal Milkman, craftsman Todd Peters takes the expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” to a new level.
His custom-made wind chimes and metal sculptures are fashioned from a variety of objects and materials that have been recycled and repurposed into mixed media art pieces.
A lifelong resident of Gray, Peters chose the name Heavy Metal Milkman as a marketing tool when he decided to put his artistic talents to work after losing his job.
“I needed to think of a catchy name for (my account on) Ebay,” he said. “Years ago, I worked at Pet Dairy and I listened to heavy metal (music) in my truck at that time.”
Peters said he delivered milk to schools and stores during the early morning hours.
“When you get up at 2 or 2:30 a.m., you need to stay awake, and heavy metal was my genre at the time,” he said. “There is power behind music.”
He started making wind chimes in 2010 when Dean Foods closed the dairy where he had worked for 10 years.
“I’d always wanted to make wind chimes, and I started here with silverware,” he said.
Currently working for Maola Milk and Ice Cream in Johnson City, Peters said his creations provided enough income to support him while he was unemployed.
“Now it’s my hobby, and I sell my stuff to make more room,” he said, referring to an overcrowded workshop packed with potential.
Some of his popular items are one-of-a-kind garden markers and wind chimes made with vintage silver-plate flatware, and bird feeders constructed from vintage kitchen canisters that once stored flour, sugar, coffee and tea.
Peters also shares his hobby with his family. When his younger daughter was considering a gift for her mother’s birthday, Peters suggested a handmade present.
“We went to my workshop and she picked all of the materials to make a wind chime, which we made together and stamped ‘I love you’ on one of the pieces,” he said.
Peters says he buys metal in bulk when possible to keep his cost down.
“I like going to thrift stores, but a lot I find on Ebay,” he said. “It’s easier if I have a certain vision (for what I’m going to make).”
Purchasing online also helps on the production end.
“I’m not going to waste gas and time when I could be in my workshop where I need to be,” he said.
Peters tries not to add any painting to the pieces he finds, instead going for an “as-is age” look.
“A lot of people like the more industrial look rather than the fancier work,” he said, which lends itself to the robot theme.
But he also wants his products to still be functional.
The Daisy Mae Recipebot has candlestick holders for legs supporting the recipe box body, a napkin ring as a neck, vintage silverware for arms, and a head made out of a creamer with earrings serving as the eyes. Peters said he tries to coordinate the colors and be whimsical.
Animals are another popular line, including Mayo the Robot Cat and Zeb the Found Object Dog. One custom creation was an alligator robot for a Florida Gators fan.
A children’s hospital in Memphis bought several of his products to use in a display designed to lift the young patients’ spirits. “That’s the only elephant I’ve ever done,” he said.
To create his products, Peters uses a variety of hand tools, the operation of which he says has been a self-taught trial-and-error process.
The length of time he can spend on his hobby is determined by the weather. “It can get up to 120 degrees in my workshop so three hours is usually the limit,” he said.
Though a website offers his wares, Peters said most of his products are sold in person. He is a regular at the Appalachian Farmer’s Market in Gray on Saturdays, and recently participated in Jonesborough’s first Arbor Day Festival.
Appearances at the Jonesborough Farmers Market were productive, he says, but the limit on craft vendors prevents him from setting up as a regular vendor. “I may have an opportunity if someone drops out,” he said.
While participation in Jonesborough Days is tempting, Peters said the number of hours he would have to work to prepare is scary.
The key to designing a new creation, Peters said, is being open-minded when considering a potential material.
“If you hold it upright, it may not look like anything,” he said. “But turn it upside down, and you’ll see something different.”