How do you describe Chris Jensen? He was a community organizer and community activist, art collector and artist, plumber and model, unofficial mayor of Charles Village, Atomic TV cameraman… he was a pro and an essential part of what made our little-watched public access program Atomic TV so great and we'll miss him. The last time I saw him (pre-rona) he brought me a case of Bud and I drank it like it was the 1990s at Memory Lane. The thing that impressed me most about Chris was how engaged he was with the community. Baltimore is losing too many cool people too soon – at least the memories survive. For some reason well over 20 years ago Chris gave me a CD full of of his glamor shots and plumbing ads. I was never sure why. Check those photos out — but first, a remembrance from Tom Warner!
Baltimore IS less without Chris. He was essential OG crew for early Atomic TV (along with Kelly Conway, Melissa Darwin and Todd Stachowski) – a guy who not only could hold the camera while Scott and I made asses of ourselves, but actually keep it in focus. He was a total pro and (like Adolf Kowalski and Dave Wilcox), a big, charismatic personality, the likes of which we'll never see again.
Everything I know about camerawork I learned from the self-trained Chris, and I used to edit titles in his basement where he had a very effective, old school analog setup (two Panasonic S-VHS AG-1970s! I gave him one of mine when his died – you should grab that bad boy, Richard Yeagley!), the same setup he used to edit Laure Drogoul's 14Karat Cabaret TV show with her (he also did camerawork for her because he loved crazy Art and Music of any sort!).
Good lord the man loved his art. Every time he did a plumbing job for me, he was willing to trade his time for art – he especially craved the framed R. Crumb “Tommy Toilet” poster I had hanging in the Porcelain Palace and the Yellow Submarine Toilet Seat an obsessive library fan gave me when I got married. I wish I had given them to him now.
He also helped me clean up the clutter in my old Townhouse Shabby in Rodgers Forge. “Tommy, I deal in shit & grime every day, so when a plumber tells you that you need to clean up your act, heed the advice!” Of course, he was the Felix Unger of plumbers, a neatnik who always obsessively cleaned up his work afterwards, just as he obsessively cleaned up the litter around his block in Charles Village.
He was one of a kind, the Joker Wild in the card pack, a loveable nut and loyal friend. I wish we had kept up more. The last time we saw Chris was December 2018 at Joe Squared, where he was out to support a show featuring The Jennifers and ex-Slickee Boy Marshall Keith. He had a cane (years of hard labor had taken their toll on his back and knees), but despite losing a step or two, he was as gregarious and energetic as usual. Time will not flush away memories of what a treat it was to know Chris Jensen.
Chris the Plumber Turns 50
By Tom Warner
“A week or so ago I got a flyer in the mail from Chris Jensen, Baltimore's wackiest plumber (what other respected tradesman has the slogan, “Your Poop Is My Bread and Butter” alongside a picture of an exposed buttcrack boldly displayed on the side of his work van?) and all-around nutjob (his rooftop Christmas Negativity Scene depicting Jesus with a space alien is notorious) showing a picture of him with his long-suffering assistant Shawn “The Beav” Sapp (pictured below right) adjacent to this text: “I asked my helper the Beav how I could have a really cool 50th Birthday Party. He told me not to come.” Ha, that sounds about right, I thought!” Continue reading
Chris Jensen – WJZ “Hard Look” with Richard Sher
Baltimore's best plumber Chris Jensen is heartbroken when thieves abscond with Uncle Buck's flag.
Everyman Art Collector
Colorful Charles Village plumber covers his house with art
by Brennen Jensen (Urbanite Magazine, 9/10/2010)
Chris Jensen grew up appreciating art, thanks to boyhood visits to Haussner's — the much-missed Highlandtown eatery whose walls were famously chockablock with canvases — and time spent with his late uncle Jack Butler, a painter who owned a gallery in Mt. Vernon. Ultimately, Jensen (no relation) picked up a pipe wrench, not a paintbrush. He's a plumber by trade. But when not snaking out a sewer line, he pursues his interest in art through collecting.
Jensen's trim Charles Village home brims with more than a hundred framed paintings and sculptures. Works spill down the stairway walls and crowd a small bathroom. Art abounds, and little of it of the mass-produced reproduction variety.
If there's a short, sweet moral here, it's this: to appreciate, buy and surround yourself with original art, you don't need a hedge fund manager's salary or an art historian's diploma. “Just buy what you like,” Jensen says. “I'm not rich enough to spend a lot of money.”
Jensen describes the core of his collection as “original oil paintings,” but that's a pretty broad brush. He's the first to admit there's little rhyme or reason to his tastes or display aesthetics. And so there are abstracts, next to nudes, next to pop art, next to fiber art, next to … what exactly is that?
“If I get a new piece, then something has to go,” Jensen says. “Stuff cycles in and out and I give a lot away.”
Over the years he's come to discover a real value to admiring art in the intimacy of the home, rather than in museums or books. “You have to live with a painting before you really get it,” he says.
Most of the works are by local artists, including multiple works by Daniel Schiavone, who co-founded what's now the Creative Alliance, and Nick Rusko-Berger, one of whose works takes up an entire dining room wall. Uncle Jack is well represented too, including with a stylized self-portrait.
Works have been acquired at Maryland Art Place, Artscape, barroom exhibits and street fairs, usually for no more than a couple hundred bucks. Then there's his special source for some of his favorite paintings, one where the pipe wrench is a key to entry: Baltimore basements.
“I've been called ‘the plumber to the arts,'” Jensen explains. “Artists are my customers and I'm in people's basements all the time. I see all this great stuff. They may have a hundred pieces of crap but I'll find one good. I have an eye, apparently.”
A larger-than-life-sized rendering of a nude woman at the top of his stairs came from a basement where he was fixing pipes. Seems it was an image of the customer's ex-girlfriend. “I don't think his wife was thrilled about it still being down there,” Jensen says. “I think I got it by taking $100 off the bill.”
Jensen has dabbled some at creating art, applying his welding and pipefitting skills to create sculptures, such as the fountain of sorts fashioned from copper piping and spigots that gurgles away on his sun porch. He is perhaps best known for his rooftop Christmas display, familiar to anyone who's driven his stretch of Howard Street around the holidays. Call it an “installation” if you will. It's a vintage, internally illuminated plastic manger scene where the wise men are joined by a bright green alien. What's it all about? Jensen doesn't know. He says the idea just came to him one year.
“If people think of me as a stereotypical plumber they have no clue,” Jensen says with a smile.