Chris Jensen, a Charles Village plumber with an eclectic design taste, dies

Chris Jensen, a plumber with a puckish sense of humor known for his chuckle-inspiring outdoor holiday displays, died July 13 at his Charles Village home. He was 67.

His sister Jacqueline “Jacki” Yeagley said a medical cause of death has not been determined.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Parkville at Old Harford and Joppa roads, he was the son of William Owen Jensen Jr., an attorney who served in the Maryland House of Delegates, and Patricia Harrington, a registered pediatric nurse.

He was a graduate of Loch Raven Senior High School and earned an associate degree at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus.

He played the guitar and bass and belonged to a garage band, Lumpy and the Haskells. He performed at the Bowman Restaurant in Parkville as a young man.

“My uncle had a punk rock vibe to him, and he loved playing Stones covers with anyone who came to his basement for a jam session,” said his nephew Richard Yeagley.

As an older teenager, he spent a summer at Ocean City and looked for work.

“He was 18 or 19 and a contractor said, ‘I need three of you. I need one for exterior work, another for electrical and one for plumbing.’ Chris became the plumber’s apprentice on the spot that way,” his brother, William Owen Jensen III, said.

Mr. Jensen went on to establish his own residential plumbing business and worked throughout Charles Village. He advertised his services by word-of-mouth and by humorous refrigerator magnets he distributed.

“Chris loved Charles Village. He did not leave a 1-mile radius of his home,” said his nephew Richard.

Mr. Jensen did his bit for cultural awareness by inserting a space alien into his Christmas Nativity scene, a 2004 Sun story said: “Every night during the holidays, on the porch roof of a rowhouse at Howard and 28th streets, passers-by can find an illuminated paradigm of heavenly inclusiveness. There, along with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, a shepherd and three Magi, is a character you might consider the Manger Stranger: an earnest green creature about 30 inches tall paying its respects.”

Mr. Jensen bought the alien at Target for a Halloween display before realizing that Christmas might hold far greater potential, the story said.

He found the Holy Family at a Reisterstown vintage goods store.

He went on to be named “Baltimore’s Best Plumber” by the City Paper.

“I’m an artsy guy,” he said in 2004. “That’s the only thing I was good at.”

The next year, 2005, a Sun story said, “Chris Jensen … has added something new to his holiday display this year: A 20-foot illuminated Leg Lamp … made of copper tubing.”

The exterior display was a takeoff of a leg lamp featured in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story.”

A plastic alien accompanies the illuminated nativity scene in 2004 as eastbound traffic rolls on 28th Street on the roof of the porch of Chris Jensen's home at the corner of Howard and 28th.

His nephew Richard said Mr. Jensen also populated the interior of his home in an eclectic manner: “His house was filled with the most eclectic and abstract pieces: paintings, photographs, and weird sculptures.

“Most of the paintings were from local artists who he would barter with. He would trade plumbing work for art, which is in large part why he built up such a voluminous collection in his house.

“Many of the sculptures, however, were made by him. I can’t even begin to describe all of the bizarro pieces he personally manufactured. He loved using plumbing supplies — copper pipe especially — to make his own art.

“Some of these pieces were functional, like the coffee table he built, which used a piece of wood for the top and copper pipe as the legs and base,” his brother said.

“He had an eye for framing and composition and knew good art when he saw it,” his nephew said.

Mr. Jensen approached his plumbing work, each individual job, as a piece of art,” said his nephew, a documentary filmmaker who made “The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work.”

“But Uncle Chris was a plumber, and that was part of his identity,” his nephew said. “I considered him the Mayor of Charles Village, but more precisely, he was probably the Plumber of Charles Village.”

Mr. Jensen was an adroit marketer.

His clients wore Jensen Plumbing T-shirts. His refrigerator magnets featured quirky and humorous photo shoots.

“His eccentricities and taste showed me that it was OK to be abnormal,” said his nephew Richard.

John Spurrier, a friend and neighbor said: “Chris was a Baltimore character who was larger than life. … His enthusiasm was contagious. He liked to get the ball rolling and get things done. When he saw a neglected public or private space, he’d weed, cut the glass and plant flowers.”

Mr. Jensen enjoyed sailing The Prudence on the Magothy River.

A life celebration will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Peabody Heights Brewery at 30th and Barclay streets.

Survivors include his brother, William Owen Jensen III of Rosedale; three sisters, Susan Koterwas of Perry Hall, Jacqueline “Jacki” Yeagley of Loch Raven and Patti Jo Vucci of Perry Hall; and 11 nieces and nephews.