Landing zone for Steve Heller's space roadsters alongside Route 28.
Landing zone for Steve Heller's space roadsters alongside Route 28.

Steve Heller's Spaceships and Robots

Field review by the editors.

Boiceville, New York

The 21st century Space Race may have become the private hobby of the superrich, but in Boiceville, New York, a more humble spaceship operation has been underway for decades. Built by Steve Heller, the spacecraft stand outside his storefront, Heller's Fabulous Furniture, which has been attracting visitors with hand-crafted tables and chairs -- and also dinosaurs, robots, space aliens, and rocket ships -- for almost 50 years. Steve's spacecraft aren't the rockets of billionaires. He fabricates them from found objects; in the case of the largest, from an upcycled old cement truck.

Metal alien receives a reassuring pat from Steve.
Metal alien receives a reassuring pat from Steve.

A dozen of Steve's sculptures orbit his gallery, ready for blastoff from his lawn. There's a bit of Buck Rogers in them all: a streamlined space-cruiser made from 1950s DeSoto tail fins; a U.S.S Enterprise in chrome; a classic saucer with stovepipe landing legs. The cement truck is populated by extraterrestrials who have written "Roswell or Bust!" in the back window.

Temporary parking for commissioned artworks in the yard.
Temporary parking for commissioned artworks in the yard.

Scattered among spaceships are earthbound creations: pigs made of propane tanks, dinosaurs made of shovels. Boiceville is just ten minutes from Woodstock, so there are plenty of sculpted guitars and a few peace signs as well.

Boiceville's bohemian culture predates the summer of '69; New York artist-types came here in the 19th century to escape the stifling city heat and paint landscapes. Steve was born and raised in Queens, but his father, Hal, a tinkerer in his own right, bought a house here explicitly because of the town's history as an artist's colony. "He was the guy in the neighborhood you brought your broken lamps and chairs to," said Steve of his dad. "He fixed everything. That's where I picked it all up." Hal also sparked an artistic urge in his son, taking Steve to the Museum of Modern Art. "I saw a Picasso, you know, with the nose on the side," Steve recalled. "And I said, 'Oh my God, I could do that. I can't draw realistic, but I can draw someone with the nose on the side of the head.'"

Teal-tinted astro-cruiser has '58 DeSoto tail fins.
Teal-tinted astro-cruiser has '58 DeSoto tail fins.

Besides Picasso, Steve said that "my other childhood heroes, while everybody else's was Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris [of the New York Yankees], were George Barris and Gene Winfield, two big hot rod customizers." In other words, they didn't wear pinstripes; they painted them. Steve began working on cars when he was 14, which eventually led to another outlet for his art: custom Franken-cars. One, which Steve named Marquee DeSoto, was described by him as having "'57 DeSoto fins and rear bumper, and Lincoln headlights, and Buick side trim, and a few other things."

Inside the gallery: an odd mix of natural wood and metal creatures.
Inside the gallery: an odd mix of natural wood and metal creatures.

Steve's circuitous route to his present patch of roadside property included brief forays as a bellhop in the Borscht Belt, handling "collections" for a mobster ("You know, the Wiseguy life was not for me"), and selling electronic calculators in California. All the while he never stopped creating and tinkering with the things that fascinated him. Steve eventually moved back to the East Coast, and in 1973 bought an abandoned motel that became Fabulous Furniture.

Wrench-legged dove of peace, perched on a Woodstock guitar.
Wrench-legged dove of peace, perched on a Woodstock guitar.

Most of the rockets at Fabulous Furniture are permanent, but other large-scale sculptures on the lawn have been commissioned by private collectors, which creates a semi-revolving display of work. The back of the property, not open to visitors, is where Steve and his "creative partner in crime," Mike Karpf, spend most of their time. Here they work on new projects, arrange the mostly found raw materials (Steve called it "sorted bedlam"), and slowly dry the branches and logs that eventually become the furniture wood.

Steve described his technique for testing scrap metal: "When we're not sure if something is stainless, we put it out here. Within a few weeks we know."

Where does he get the material? "Sometimes I pull up to work here in the morning and there's a pile of crap in the driveway," he said. "Good crap. You know, people are happy to give me stuff."

Along with the furniture and large sculptures, Steve crafts small robots, creatures, rocket ships, and lamps out of cars parts, old tools, household appliances, and random machinery. These artworks can be purchased from the on-site gallery, overseen by Martha Frankel, Steve's wife. T-shirts printed with the Roswell or Bust! slogan and rocket ship are sold as souvenirs for looky-loos, of which there are many. If they look closely, they'll see that the aliens in the cement truck are wearing those t-shirts, too.

Visitors are free to wander the outside grounds unbothered, while Steve and Mike are busy in the studio. When called by Martha, Steve, often in a sleeveless shirt and jeans, will amble down and answer any questions that one may have. "It's just a good cross section of all my work," he said of the sculpture garden. "Rocket ships, car sculptures, awesome flying saucers. Some people paint their self portrait. This is my self portrait."

Steve Heller's Spaceships and Robots

Heller's Fabulous Furniture

Address:
3930 NY-28, Boiceville, NY
Directions:
Heller's Fabulous Furniture. One mile southeast of Boiceville, on the east side of NY-28. Look for the spaceships on the lawn.
Hours:
W-Su 10-5. Spaceships lit at night. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
845-750-3035
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
S.C. Billboard: Stray from the Herd, Cobleskill, NY - 50 mi.

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