The Artist as Junk Collector
I learned about recycling at a very early age. I remember stepping on vegetable cans, probably before I went to kindergarten. The procedure was to empty the vegetables into a pan, rinse the can, remove the bottom with the hand crank can opener, step on the can to flatten it, and insert the top and bottom into the flattened can. I was the person who flattened the can. “They need it for the war,” Mother said.
When I was weaving, I recall reading how Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz scavenged the docks near her home for sections of rope for her sculptures because she couldn’t buy materials.
I’ve always picked up stuff from the ground and brought it home – shells, sticks, pine cones, stones. When I started making baskets, I picked up more stuff. As near as I can remember, my junk collecting went into high gear when I bought my house in Stockton. The house had been cleaned and freshly painted in parts of the inside.
But the garage was full of things the previous owners, and before that her parents, didn’t take with them. Drawers of screws, nails, nuts, thing-a-ma-jigs, rusty old tools, and scraps of wood, as well as a shed full of clay pots.
At an estate sale, I got a set of old army flat files that just happened to have handfuls of rusty little parts of things which got added to my growing collection. A few years ago, I started noticing interesting junk in parking lots, like eye-glass frames now flattened by traffic. All those little plastic pieces that come with electronics as part of the packaging also get added to my stash.
Almost twenty years ago at a National Basketry Organization conference, I was in a workshop taught by John Garrett who worked with metals. From time to time I checked his website and saw that he had moved on to making large wall pieces using what looked like metal and plastic items hanging in strings.
Fascinated, I decided someday I would try to make something similar using some of this junk I’ve collected. I’ve reached the point where, if I plan to do it someday, I’d best get on with it soon!
Early last year the florescent ceiling light in my kitchen broke and my sons installed a new LED fixture. The rigid plastic cover was about to go into my recycling bin when I decided it might be useful to make that junk piece I wanted to do. I was on the lookout at estate sales for something that would work as a base. I found a former towel rack that was the perfect size. I had some kind of a dish rack I picked up years ago that became the top to hold the strings.
Little by little I thought my way through the project. I bought four 100 count packs of slip rings online.
I found hose clamps at Harbor Freight to hold the slip rings to the top. I drilled holes every 3/8ths of an inch across the top of the kitchen light cover, and wired the dish rack to the plastic with wire I had kept from my father’s workbench.
I had planned to hang some small white plastic scoops that come in a supplement on the rings, but realized that they wouldn’t show up against the plastic back. Reds and oranges worked best so I went through my stash again. The main problems were how to attach things that didn’t have any holes in them. Old keys worked well, colored cable ties were easy. I had a box of blue plastic rings that came with bottles of milk, which my cats used to love to play with. They went onto the slip rings easily.
The whole construction measures roughly 45 inches tall by 14 inches across. It is sitting against a wall of my storage shed under an overhanging roof where it gets a gentle breeze but not a lot of wind. Maybe I should add some jingle bells to it.
The front view photo above may look like there is something else behind it, but that is the shadow because I took some photos in full sun, hoping to get the shine on the rings.
I was surprised how quickly it went together on one of those 100+ days when I worked indoors on it.
My boyfriend teases me, that when I’m gone my sons will toss all my junk into a dumpster. That’s okay with me, but before that happens I should think up some other junk projects.