Dean Leathers has been a local resident since he was two years old. As a teenager, he would walk from school to work at his father’s shop, Mike’s Tire & Brake in Phelan. That’s where he learned to weld by working on exhausts, and where he was first introduced into his field of art–metalwork.
As the owner of Dean’s Custom Exhaust, bending and manipulating metal comes with the job. But it wasn’t until five years ago that he decided to take his skills to the next level. “It was actually my grandmother’s idea,” Leathers explains, recalling how he got into metalwork art. “She goes, ‘You need to start doing this. You need to get the machine.’ And, she’s actually the one that pushed me.”
Once he started down that road, he began to see a demand for his art. As you walk into his shop, pieces he’s made are hanging on the walls. They also serve as examples of what he can create. One of those pieces is a large tattered and charred American flag. It is an incredible display of craftsmanship that captures the whole of American spirit and pride. “To me, it tells a story. Like, its been through all kinds of stuff, and you still got it hanging up on the wall.”
In 2018, a customer placed an order for their son, who was becoming a member of the US Coast Guard. The piece caught the attention of the superiors of the Guardsmen. They contacted Leathers and requested he design and create a wall of honor for them in Long Beach. What he made was an American flag to pair with a large crest of the logo for the Coast Guard. The pieces hang above a plaque indicating the purpose of the wall. Underneath it, they place smaller plaques with the names of those being honored. He says that the experience of being able to make that was “unreal.” When the wall was finished, a member of the military who saw it called Leathers and ordered a tattered flag from him. Last he heard that flag hangs in an office in Guantanamo Bay.
For the past four years, Leathers has been invited and attending a kid’s charity event called Desert Thunder. The event is hosted in Las Vegas and provides him with an opportunity to have a booth to display and sell his work. The funds raised during the event are distributed among children’s services organizations in Nevada and California. This year, he also plans on getting a booth at the annual Phelan Phamily Phun Days. After years of honing his skills, he says he can create “pretty much anything anyone could ever want.” Examples of his past work are visible on his business page on Facebook.
It has taken a lot to get to where he’s at now, says Leathers. His advice to young artists is to keep working hard. Over the years, you spend a lot of time practicing, and you burn through lots of material. But that’s what it takes to get good at your craft. When frustration sets in, you learn to walk away and come back later with a fresh perspective. For people who purchase his work, he wants them to know that “I absolutely love doing it.” That’s what makes it so special.
PHOTO: Made in the USA: Dean Leathers fixes your vehicle’s exhaust system by day and creates beautiful pieces of metalwork art by night. PHOTO BY: I.I. Cabrera – NewsPlus