Jim Broadstreet's Mobiles

After more than six decades of designing, building and creating, 86-year-old Jim Broadstreet, Sr., is making moving works of art.

By Ren Bishop | Photos by Brandon Alms

Mar 2016

Upcycled Beauty:  Jim Broadstreet transforms materials he has found and collected over the years into mobiles, like Sally Two, which is named after his niece. 

At age 86, Jim Broadstreet, Sr. has decided he might be an artist. But by no means has Broadstreet just started creating. Since the 1950s, the Seattle native worked with his hands intuitively, designing, drafting and building homes, tables, light fixtures, trays and, most notably, Springfield Art Museum’s massive wooden doors. His works commissioned by customers or companies were mostly functional, he says. 

But then his wife Vee had a request.“I said, ‘I want a mobile,’ and a week later, he brought it up from downstairs,” she says. And that was the beginning of it all. 

Since November 2015, Broadstreet has been tinkering with a new project: mobiles. Built from materials collected in the last six decades, the hanging mobiles are delicate and eclectic. Pieces of discarded costume jewelry from a friend, bits of a copper wire bought at a garage sale, discarded board game pieces and more work to form moving, intricate creations.

Parts from a century-old upright piano were glued together to form a part of a standing mobile called Piano Etude. Broadstreet stands next to it, pointing out each individual piece and naming its origin. “Those came from an old piano from a project I made that was featured in The American Home magazine in 1955,” he says, gesturing to a particular mobile. “I was tearing apart an old upright piano and making furniture out of it, shortly after I came back from the Army. What I ended up with was a bunch of the ebony and ivory keys, and for some reason, I kept them all these years.”

Broadstreet stored pieces that he found aesthetically pleasing or interesting in drawers in his basement studio, in the home he built in 1960. He’d spot something, and intuitively, he knew it would have a function in something he’d create one day, he says.

“The pieces, they all have a story,” Broadstreet says. “That or they were off-fall in my woodworking shop.” Off-fall, or fall off pieces, are wood scraps left over during woodworking. 

Finding New Sound:  Broadstreet used pieces from an old piano to create this standing mobile, named Piano Etude. 

His Background

The craft comes naturally to Broadstreet, the son of a woodworker. He worked with his hands as a young man, building pieces when he was stationed in Germany during the Korean conflict. He then studied design in Finland for two years, volunteering to teach woodworking classes at a local technical school.

Upon returning to the United States, he began work at an architectural millwork company, helping to design and build wooden pieces for a decade. In the late 1960s, he purchased his own woodworking company in Springfield—Broadstreet Woodworking.

After 13 years, he sold the company and went to work for Edwin Waters at Marshall-Waters Architects. He worked as a project coordinator during the day, and in his spare time, he designed and completed dozens of residential projects in the Springfield area. Now, finally retired, he keeps busy by tinkering with his mobiles, working to create the most stunning visual aesthetic and the best practical design for his dangling works. 

His Art

And like any artist, Broadstreet is constantly looking forward to his next project. A statement by Frank Lloyd Wright sticks in his head. “Somebody asked him what his favorite work was, and he said, ‘The next one,’” Broadstreet says. “I’m kind of that way. I just like to tinker; I still don’t think I’m a real artist.”