NORWALK — Ever since he was a child, Vince Pompei has harbored a deep fascination with clocks. So much so that he has the scar to prove it.
When he was in fifth grade, he made a clock entirely out of a set of Lego blocks. The device featured a weight-driven pendulum with plastic gears. It even told the day and month of the year.
“The trick was to get it to skip the extra day if there were only 30 days in the month,” he said.
The project took him about a year. During that time, he fell off a stool while working and cut his right leg on a staircase.
It proved to be an omen of sorts. At 36, he is still addicted to making clocks, although as a working artist.
On Saturday, Pompei was one of 145 exhibitors at the SoNo Arts Celebration, an annual South Norwalk street festival that is now in its 37th year.
The event was begun by a group of local artists who conceived of it as “just a fine arts show” according to Sue Brown-Gordon, one of the two festival directors. At the time, the artists used up only one small stretch of Washington Street.
Over the years, it has morphed into a three-day party that includes jury-selected art across 11 different mediums, live music and a puppet parade which caps off the weekend on Sunday. The white booths are sprawled out across at least two closed-off streets along South Norwalk’s picturesque waterfront historic district.
The artists and artisans travel from 21 states. They include painters, photographers, jewelry-makers, clothing-designers and glassblowers.
Between 60,000 and 75,000 people attend the event, Brown-Gordon said.
Despite the sticky, humid weather, a procession of cars could be seen coming from Interstate 95.
Dressed in a brimmed hat and a patchwork shirt, Pompei, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., was marking his second time at the festival.
For the past six years, he has made a living by creating and selling clocks fashioned from recycled materials such as wood reclaimed from torn-down buildings and more unusually, from old silverware.
The results are elaborate and eye-catching timepieces molded from everyday objects. Round serving plates double as clock faces, while spoons act as swinging pendulums. Some measure several feet in length, intended to resemble 19th century calendar clocks.
The prices range from $100 to $3,500.
Reaction to his work varies, Pompei said.
Surprisingly, some customers hone in on the mechanics and fail even to notice the components.
“They see the gears, then they see it’s silverware a couple of seconds later.”
Others are drawn to his choice of material in an entirely unexpected way.
In Atlanta, for instance, he said he has sold the clocks to women who wistfully recalled Sundays spent polishing silverware with their mothers.
The clocks remind them of a hallowed southern tradition.
“It’s the proper dining thing,” he said.
Ironically, for a man who has spent nearly his whole life creating devices that measure time, Pompei has trouble recollecting dates and even estimating the amount of time it took him to complete a particular piece.
The work is often time-consuming, he said. He has to sort through and match pieces of silverware amassed over time. He frequents flea markets and estate sales. Sometimes, people will show up at his booth and generously hand him a box of silverware that they received years ago as a wedding gift.
But mostly, he confessed, his inability to track time is an innate character trait.
“I’ve always been like that,” he said, with a sheepish grin. “I’m such a daydreamer. I’m always thinking about stuff I want to make.”
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-964-2265; http://twitter.com/lizkimtweets