Fossil Forge owner Dave Eames may be the most identifiable businessman in downtown Lee’s Summit.
And not because of his oft-dirty jeans or soiled shirt, both earned byproducts of working in a shop that features metal and craftsmanship. But — rightfully so — for his art.
Eames’ stamp on the imaginative and artsy nature of downtown Lee’s Summit can be found on every block, every corner and in many marketing campaigns in businesses that stretch from the city’s heart to Paradise Park.
And even beyond Lee’s Summit, where he and his wife, Lee’s Summit Elementary School teacher Kelly Eames, have called home for decades as they have raised four children.
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Many, of course, know Eames for his ingenuity and inspiration in building the Little Free Library stands we have seen crop up city and nationwide. He built his first in April of 2013 as a birthday gift to Kelly.
Twenty-five years later, Eames has created some of the most unique Little Free Libraries in the country, stretching from Seattle to Texas for schools, churches and the front yards of homes. (Yes, I have one).
“It’s so much fun to be part of that program,” Eames said.
While the libriaries may be his signature art piece, his signs and artistic contributions to downtown Lee’s Summit are a burgeoning business — inside, outside, all over.
Fossil Forge has made its mark at downtown businesses Got Art Gallery, Libations, Very Violet, Raspberry Whimsy, Bricks Pub & Grub, Budget Blinds, State Farm, Edward Jones, The Eye Station, Blue Heron and Fringe Beerworks (a signature FRINGE sign now resides high above the bar).
Visitors can see his artistry at The Stanley, where Eames has done work on the roof, the poles, lights, a water feature and inside the bridal suite.
They’ll see it in Grains & Taps (light fixtures), Lee’s Summit Historical Museum exhibit graphics, historical graphics at Main Slice, extensive work at Smoke Brewing Company (bar features, shelves, railings, outside gates), wall art and benches at Frankie Fairlanes, wall art at Third Street Social, railings at Julia Hampton’s CPA office and custom-made carts at Stuey McBrew’s.
During the city’s 150th anniversary in 2015, Eames rolled out “Emergence,” a gorgeous art piece/time capsule in City Hall Plaza. Over at the Stansberry Leadership Center, he created the donor wall sculpture.
And when he’s not downtown, you can find him at Paradise Park: No, he’s not hitting the batting cages; he’s installing fire pits, gates and fences. All made right at 317 1/2 S.E. Main St.
It’s that building, he says, that changed everything in 2015.
“Went from home shop, which has its own stigma, to having my own space, which was an absolute dream come true for me. I have thought about a studio workshop space down here for years,” he said.
His work has gone to Oklahoma and Kansas and has been shipped as far away as Massachusetts and Washington.
“It’s design or artwork that doesn’t have to be out of reach for people’s budgets,” he says.
Dave calls his business plan the “pre-Amazon model.”
“It underlines the way business has always operated. I go to my eye doctor down here now. I go to my barber here,” Eames said, adding that he wants to be the go-to place for those that need work done.
“Mr. Fix it. The village blacksmith. Nuts and bolts, bread and butter work,” he said. “We can’t be the art studio that looks expensive or moody or mysterious. The place where the door is open and you bring in your busted lawnmower deck and ask, ‘Can you fix this?’ Absolutely.”
And this is where Eames’ role in the community starts to come into focus. He feels a calling bigger than profits.
“The role our shop has in our community has to be bigger than money. My goal was to never get rich. That’s fool’s gold,” he said. “I want people to associate our downtown with beauty, spontaneity and the unexpectedness of seeing work in and around our stores and public space, sidewalks and alleys.”
Fossil Forge began in 2003 in Dave’s garage. Now, he’s very publicly situated in downtown with his garage door open so families can look in and ask, “What is this place?”
“We want to inspire people. If you are lucky enough to have your work beautify your community, that’s part of what we want to do,” Eames says. “I want it to have that positive effect on Lee’s Summit.”
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at email@example.com.