Edwin Knies says his mind is like “a hand grenade that just keeps exploding.” Once he pulls the pin, he can’t stop thinking. Though this tendency to generate ideas in rapid succession disqualifies Knies from becoming a Zen master, it certainly helps him make quirky stuff.
Case in point: The Black Mountain resident is currently converting a liquid manure spreader into a submarine for a quarry in Tennessee. “There was a foot of 50-year-old manure in there that had turned to dust,” he explains.
He calls the submarine his “little psychosis” — though he’s pulled off crazier projects. Like using a plasma torch to transform empty refrigerant tanks into ghoulish jack o’lanterns, grimacing devils, and Medusa lookalikes with spark plugs for snakes.
These creepy characters are a big hit at Mountain Made, his mother’s art gallery in downtown Asheville, where Knies also sells usable goods like fire pokers, wine racks, and hooks. But these wares are a bit tame for Knies, who’s known for some pretty outrageous stunts.
When he was three months old, for instance, he got a hold of a razor blade and a glue gun; when he was one, he learned how to use a circular saw; and when he was 12, he flipped the axle in his uncle’s truck upside down. “It drove backward in every gear except reverse,” he remembers.
Growing up in Winchester, Tennessee, Knies was always bloodying his knuckles under the hood of a car, taking note from his maternal grandfather who built race cars. On his dad’s side, white-hot iron ran through the family tree. Knies’ great-grandfather operated a smithy. Decades later, his son established a hardware shop where that forge once stood.
In short, Knies comes from a long line of men who worked with their hands. As a kid, he leaned into this, building his own G.I. Joe dolls and vacuums out of materials destined for the landfill. Being a maker was a welcomed reprieve from being a student, says Knies, who was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at age 12.
But in adulthood, Knies temporarily lost sight of his passion for creation. After a stint as a freelance photographer in Washington, D.C., he started selling hot tubs in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Then, his young son passed away.
“I know everybody has s**t flung their way, but we went through a pretty nasty one,” says Knies. “I decided I wasn’t going to do crap that I didn’t want to do anymore.”
In 2007, several years after moving to Western North Carolina, Knies returned to his roots and started studying automotive-systems technology at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Not long after he started the program, he was asked to become an instructor. Knies has been teaching ever since — an admittedly tame job for someone who describes his younger self as “punk rock.”
In the classroom, says Knies, it’s all about responsibility. But in his workshop, it’s about anarchy: creating “edgy, twisted, and gnarled” pieces that challenge convention and sometimes, if he’s lucky, freak people out.
“My mind is like staring into a chandelier with five different light sources,” says Knies. “It’s all over the place.”
Edwin Knies, Black Mountain. Knies’ work can be found at Mountain Made 1 Page Ave., #123, Asheville). For more information, visit mtnmade.com.