By Melissa Mendonca
The Amazing Puzzles and More of Frank Van Meter
With the flick of a light switch, Frank Van Meter illustrates his life philosophy. “Just like that,” he says, flooding a room with light, “the darkness is gone.”
Van Meter brings light to the world through multiple endeavors that capture his imagination and express his creative interests. “God made me to create things,” says the designer, painter, musician and entrepreneur.
Of late, North State residents have been captivated by the whimsy of his newest creations, large wooden puzzles that build into moveable Ferris wheels and retro-styled rocketships. On display at Enjoy the Store, the pieces fill a heart with joy and bring a sparkle to the eyes of young and old alike. The Ferris wheels come in two sizes, 40” and 80”, and rotate with the gentle touch of a hand.
Each puzzle is the result of months of design that starts with a drawn image and then becomes perfected with computer software. The designs are then sent to Napa to be fabricated from Baltic birch and brass. Van Meter is currently designing a puzzle that will build into a full-sized electric guitar. “It.s going to be several hundred pieces to make it work,” he says.
“When I started doing the design work in 2008, I noticed something,” says Van Meter. “Before that, if I didn’t do some kind of art I would find myself getting anxious and irritable and I would tell myself, 'I have to paint. I have to paint.'” Of his work designing puzzles and musical instrument stands, he says, “It satisfies something in me in that way that I didn't think anything else would except for painting.”
“The only reason that I make art is that I believe in God,” he says. “And I know that anytime someone comes in contact with goodness, beauty and truth, they are face to face with God. My purpose in life is to create beautiful things and put them into the world.”
The rocket puzzle he designed seems simple enough, especially when compared to the Ferris wheel, but is something “I literally spent hours and hours on.” He chose material through which light would play at various angles, and obsessed over form and proportion of each piece.
He says he particularly enjoys “the visualizing it in my head and then going through the process to get it in my hands. I'm not going for good enough, I'm going for finished and excellent.”
Van Meter and his wife, Shannon, a teacher and administrator at Selah Dance Academy, are consciously cultivating lives of creativity and community that enrich others. “I’d like to get manufacturing set up here in Red Bluff and eventually hire someone to run it. Then I can keep on designing,” he says. “We’d provide the segue jobs for people to come in, get on their feet and not have their pasts held against them.”
They dream of designing beautiful products “to manufacture locally and distribute globally.” Van Meter currently has a design for a ukulele stand that is manufactured in China and distributed through Kala Ukelele. Although he was excited to receive the first two boxes of the 10,000 that were originally ordered from China, he is eager to see his designs fully created in the North State.
The couple, parents of five, moved to Red Bluff in 2003 without knowing anyone and when their youngest three were small. “I was born in Oklahoma and I really like it here,” says Van Meter. “I like that it's slower and quieter.”
They once spent a lot of time on the road as music ministers, performing in churches and Christian coffee houses, but now enjoy the challenge of bringing “prosperity and sustainable progress to this community.” He adds, “This is just beyond making art for us. It's really about shaping our community for the good of all.”
The family lives in an old Red Bluff Victorian strewn with musical instruments displayed on stands designed by Van Meter and art created by various members. They eat at a table built from an old church door that Van Meter rescued and re-purposed from a job he worked on as a plasterer and cement artist.
At 62, he is settling in to art and business endeavors that culminate from a lifetime of experiences and passion projects. “I just figure that the fourth quarter of my life is going to be the best,” he says. “That’s when you win the game.”