At Vox we talk about using what you love to do to bring a difference. If there is a person who exemplifies this ideal, it would be Steve Penna. Steve is an amazing person with a huge heart for the world. Steve recently made a decision to use his art to give people in Africa access to clean water. We recently interviewed Steve because we believe that his story is worth sharing. Read on…
How long have you been doing “metal art”?
My first attempt at metal art was in December of 2008, so I’ve been at it off and on for about 5 years.
How did you get started with it?
I retired from teaching in December of 2007 and within a month my wife and I were short term missionaries in Chengdu, China. We returned to the USA 5 months later and enjoyed a beautiful summer. My wife, Kathy, is a substitute teacher and once fall came she was busy. I kept busy with projects and bicycling until winter came.
At that time I realized I needed to be busy doing something. With expectation I sought God’s leading, asking: “What do You want me to do with the time, talents, and resources You’ve given me”? I was reminded of an art project that my students had worked on that involved pressing indentations and lines into a very heavy aluminum foil. I had enjoyed that so I purchased a 10 foot roll of aluminum roof flashing. I shortly discovered that it was much too dense.
Now I had about 9 feet of aluminum and my upbringing had taught me that I shouldn’t waste it. At that point I decided to try making some flowers. With some success I had begun. My wife asked if I could make something for a wall in the house with the metal. I worked for several weeks and mounted it on the wall.
When friends and family saw the piece they asked if I could make something for them … only they wanted leaves or sailboats or painted flowers. I tried, it worked and here I am today with my work in a gallery.
What intrigues you about metal art? First, and foremost, I really don’t know what I’m doing. It seems like ideas come out of the blue. I try them, and they usually work. Along that line, it’s amazing to me that people will want something that I’ve made and are willing to pay for it. Another aspect is that I’m using materials that are associated with roofing and fencing to produce art, repurposing I guess. Also, the more I commit my work to God the more He keeps opening doors. Recently I learned a Hebrew word, avodah, that I’m trying to apply to my art. Avodah means both work/slave and worship. Not easy, but I’m trying to make my work and act of worship.
Please tell us about your project with Vox.
It’s pretty simple. If I sell a piece of art for $50 Vox gets a check for $50 earmarked for water. No kerfuffle, art is sold and a check goes to Vox for water. A portion of my money also goes to a World Vision water project that our daughter raises funds for when she runs the Chicago marathon.
What gave you the idea to give your earnings toward clean water?
When I began selling art I kept the money for myself. It was pretty cool to be spending my retirement time making some cash. As I sat with a friend over coffee he looked at me and said, “Steve, you don’t need that money.” Of course I thought he was crazy, but I listened. He challenged me to give 70% of what I received away. After some thought I decided to give it a try. About a year ago I decided that I didn’t need any of the money and I’d give it all away.
What motivates you to give your earnings exclusively toward water projects?
Kathy and I have worked in several undeveloped and developing countries. We’ve experienced firsthand what it means to live in an area where there’s no clean water. We’ve had to drink bottled or boiled water many times. When we were missionaries in the Dominican Republic I was sick for 6 weeks with parasites from unclean water so I understand the consequences.
Recently I read a quote from one of those speeches to the graduates. The speaker was challenging a generation that seems to be more about looking inward than outward. He stated, “You can climb a mountain for the world to see you, or, you can climb a mountain to see the world.” That resonated with me, I’ve been up the mountain, I’ve seen great problems, and I want to use my time and skills to deal with the specific problem of water. I chose to do it through Vox United because of my belief in and trust of the organization. Having spent many hours with Brian and a few others as Vox wrestled with how they would provide clean water to Mozambique, I know the passion, conviction, and skills of the Vox United staff and I’m glad to be a part of the team.
Steve’s work is currently being displayed at the Lake Effect Gallery in downtown Holland, Michigan (16 West 8th St) or can be purchased online here. You can also purchase art by contacting Steve directly via email: email@example.com.