In reclaiming perspectives, Martin Swanson, founder of Straight Gauge Studios in Sacramento, has engrossed a lifestyle in the world of cycling and, within it, gathers the inspiration to transform common bicycle wheels into functional pieces of art. Creating one of a kind light fixtures and home décor from wheel parts, Swanson has found a unique way to combine his love of cycling and the art of wheel engineering.
In the three years since he moved to Sacramento from Portland, Oregon, Swanson has embraced the cycling lifestyle and energy in the Capital City. Straight Gauge Studios got its start in his home, where he built an at-home bike shop for personal maintenance that eventually became the place where he would develop a passion for taking bicycle hooves, rims, spokes and relaxing them to make hand-built wheels. Passion became craft, and craft became the creative instigator that saw past the point in a wheel’s life where it is no longer structurally sound. Instead of throwing away the wheels, Swanson decided to repurpose its parts.
“The first thing I made was a trash can,” Swanson said. “My wife saw it and said, ‘That’s beautiful, get that trash out of there, we need to turn that into something else.’ So I started to play around with ideas.”
Through trial and error, Swanson watched his knowledge of wheel building come together with artistic processes he learned while earning his bachelor’s degree in drawing and printmaking. What sparked an affection for light fixtures was both the art and science behind them.
“I started making lights and I was really liking not only the silhouettes and shapes that were happening with the bending of the spokes, but also the different reflective patterns that the light was emanating on the walls and ceilings through all the spokes,” said Swanson, who explained that he makes the fixtures from a construction standpoint, utlizing the same techniques that govern how wheels are made in the first place. “Since most of the lights are made using traditional wheel building practices, when it’s dark and the lights shine through the lamp, it will actually cascade a bike wheel onto the ceiling.”
Why spend the time applying the science of wheel engineering to the art of light fixtures?
“[It’s a way] of paying homage to wheel building and the aesthetics of cycling.”
In addition to owning Straight Gauge Studios, Swanson is a manager at Greenhaven Bike Shop, where he engulfs himself in cycling and the cycling community. When prompted, Swanson said the first thing he notices on a stranger’s bike is whether it fits the rider properly.
“If the bike is high-end or low-end, it’s really irrelevant,” Swanson said. “It’s whether or not the rider is riding a bike that actually fits them.”
Similar to this perspective, a great majority of the light fixtures he creates are made custom to fit individual preferences. As every home has its own characteristics, the light fixtures range from rim color to hub, spoke, socket and cork color, as well as multiple chandelier and pendant styles. Swanson said he aims to make each piece as personal as possible to the person taking the light home.
Beyond an appreciation for the craft of wheel building, the passion that drives Swanson is a love for cycling itself.
“In the end, I’m a cycling evangelist,” Swanson said. “A lot of people ride bikes because they just personally enjoy it, but I really believe that bicycles are something that have the ability to better everyone’s daily life…Straight Gauge Studios has been a really nice platform for me to showcase the beauty of cycling.”
Swanson is currently looking at other ways to expand his art through cycling-inspired wall art, tables, and possibly even floor lighting.
Swanson’s light fixtures are currently on display at Display California at 35th and Broadway (across the street from Old Soul Forty Acres). View his creations online at Straight Gauge Studios’s Instagram page, @StraightGaugeStudios or visit straightgauge.com.
All photos taken at Display California; by Bethany Harris