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Bowled Over in Kansas

Lucas, Kansas, population 407, is located 114 miles from Wichita (its largest neighbor).  Although the quirky town is way off the beaten track in north-central Kansas,  it is a tourist destination — 10,000 people come by each year to see the art in residents’  backyard galleries of folk art.

In 1996, Governor Bill Grave named Lucas the “Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas” due to the large number of “yard environments.” Today Today the town boasts a resource center for 90 such collections, created by self-taught artists in Lucas, most over the age of 65.

The Grassroots Art Center in Lucas was established in the early 1990s to document  folk art in Kansas, and the Midwest.

“We are a magnet for self-taught artists…residents move into an art career after they retire from 9-5 office jobs,” explained Center Director Rosslyn Schultz.

Most make their art from recycled materials lying around the house. When their homes’ indoor space is used up, they put art into their front and backyards, which are open to the public.

Lucas has a long history of residents-turned-outsider artists.  Between 1905 and 1927, Samuel P. Dinsmoor, a retired teacher, who had served in the Civil War, created “The Garden of Eden.” The Garden consists of a “log cabin” — a ten-room house built of local limestone which he painted — and a landscaped garden with over 200 concrete sculptures of figures from religious and political figures. The Garden is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Concrete statue of an Indian in the Garden of Eden by Samuel P. Dinsmoor.

Concrete statue of an Indian in “The Garden of Eden” by Samuel P. Dinsmoor.

West Facade, “The Garden of Eden.”

West Facade, “The Garden of Eden.”

His work inspired Florence Deeble who, at age 58, built postcard scenes, sculptures around her home with rocks brought back from her travels. She continued to add to the collection for nearly 50 years, creating what is now known as “The Deeble Rock Garden.”

Detail: Mount Rushmore by Florence Deeble

Detail: “Mount Rushmore” by Florence Deeble.

In 2008, 30 Lucas residents got together and decided the town needed a public restrooms for its thousands of visitors. “They said, ‘You find eccentric art in Lucas. We need something unusual,’”  according to Schultz.

Entrance to the new public restroom, Bowl Plaza, in Lucas, Kansas.

Entrance to the new public restroom, Bowl Plaza, in Lucas, Kansas.

They settled on a building that looks like a gigantic toilet. Two businessmen donated the land for it; Kohler Plumbing Company, which supports outsider art, donated the two sinks and 3 toilets and a urinal. Nearly 75 percent of the residents volunteered their time and materials to make it happen.

Plans for Bowl Plaza called for mosaics. One retired person who had experience with the medium came from 30 miles away and showed people how to do it. Eventually everything was covered with mosaic. The floor is created from leftover tiles from individuals home projects in all sizes and colors. The town collected 1,700 bottles that were incorporated into the design. One man contributed his chess set while others gave jewelry they no longer used.

Details of a mosaic mural in the Bowl Plaza.

Details of a mosaic mural in the Bowl Plaza.

The plaza at the entrance to the bowl is sunken, providing an area for people to sit and talk. A giant concrete toilet paper roll unfurls outside as a stimulus for conversation beneath the toilet’s 14-foot-tall lid.

“Our lid is always up,” Schultz said. “This was done by volunteers and took thousands of hours to put together.”

The $100,000 building is almost complete and paid for by grants, local fundraisers such as the Great Toilet Seat Art Show and Auction, and donations from people throughout the country. To close the gap, the town took bids on eBay for the honor of the first flush of The Superbowl on the men’s side, on June 2 at 3:21. The highest bid was $265.

The public restroom was officially open for business on June 2nd after 3:21p.m. For further information, visit the Grassroots Art Center’s site.

Glass Act: Second Life for Window Glass

Finish a bottle of grape juice and you put it into a recycling bin. Break a window and you put it in the trash can, because flat glass has a different chemical composition and manufacturing process than container glass that makes it tough to recycle. According to the EPA, we scrap 11 million tons of non-bottle glass each year.

Erwin Timmers is an environmentalist and “green” glass artist who lives and works with window glass in Maryland.  Panes are more difficult to re-melt than art glass, so Timmers developed new approaches to kiln-fired techniques for his creations. He casts small sculptures of everyday objects, such as this ball of rubber bands, from the recycled glass.

Pink Rubber Band Ball by Erwin Timmers

Pink Rubber Band Ball by Erwin Timmers.

Timmers’ supplies usually come from office buildings in the nearby Washington, DC, area that are being remodeled. While he exhibits his small sculptures in art galleries mostly on the East Coast — because shipping the fragile works farther away is a dicey proposition  — Timmers also uses recycled glass to create sculptural relief panels on new buildings.

In 2011 he completed a commission to create sculptural panels installed in a new, soon-to-be-LEED-certified, Safeway supermarket in Bethesda, Maryland.  He took the window glass from the old store before it was demolished and made panels with a food-related theme: a variety of herb leaves.

Erwin Timmers installing a window he designed for the Safeway grocery store in Bethesda, Maryland

Erwin Timmers installing a window he designed for the Safeway grocery store in Bethesda, Maryland.

Interior view of Timmers' windows for the Safeway in Bethesda, Maryland

Interior view of Timmers’ windows for the Safeway in Bethesda, Maryland.

Timmers also works with copper because it is one of the few metals that can be infused in glass. After a  courthouse in Upper Maryland burned down, part of the copper roof was salvageable. Timmers won a competition to devise a structure that incorporated the reclaimed material. He also used the copper in tiles now hanging outside one of the courtrooms.

Bell Tower at Upper Marlboro, Maryland Courthouse was originally on the roof of the old Courthouse that burned down, The current Bell Tower is a commemorative piece created by Erwin Timmers and the Washington Glass School

Bell Tower at Upper Marlboro, Maryland Courthouse was originally on the roof of the old Courthouse that burned down, The current Bell Tower is a commemorative piece created by Erwin Timmers and the Washington Glass School.

Close up of glass panels in the Bell Tower (above)

Close up of glass panels in the Bell Tower (above).

Recently Timmers completed panels depicting schools of fish for the National Geographic Society to be installed in a ship used for tours of the Antarctic. His work also will be included in the April 2012 Smithsonian Craft Show.

For more information, visit Timmers’ site.

Drifting Dunes of Discs

Since 1972, when they first became available, literally billions and billions of compact disks have been manufactured and distributed – remember AOL’s mass mailings announcing the birth of the Internet?

Unfortunately, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and the like are petroleum-based artifacts, and literally millions of them wind up in landfills every year – did anyone actually want any discs from AOL?

While digital music and streaming video is rapidly replacing the disc, as they become obsolete, more discs are being trashed each year. Most local recycling programs aren’t equipped to handle the No. 7 type of plastic used to make discs, so even if consumers put them in the recycling bin, they have nowhere to go but the dump.

Wastelandscape 104 (Overview)

Overview, Wastelandscape 104

To draw attention to the growing problem, French artist Elise Morin and architect Clemence Elliard have created a traveling installation out of 65,000 old CDs sewn together by hand. On view in the Halle d’Aubervilliers in Paris’ Centquartre art center through Sept. 10, the 500-meter-square (546 yards plus 2 ft.) surface of “Wastelandscape 104” is arranged over air-filled plastic bubbles in a series of undulating mounds that resemble, in the artists’ words, a still sea of metallic dunes.

Detail of Wastelandscape

Detail, Wastelandscape 104

“CDs are condemned to gradually disappear from our daily life, and to later participate in the construction of immense open-air, floating or buried toxic waste reception centers,” the artists wrote.

Video of the installation and presentation of Wastelandscape 104

They plan to take the installation to other venues, where it will take on different shapes, before having the discs recycled and returned to its original polycarbonate components, which can be used to make new items without consuming more oil.

The abundance of unwanted CDs has been inspiring artists for years. In 2004, George Radebaugh of  Washington State used 10,000 CDs in his “29 Palms” project.

For more information on how to properly recycle that digitially remastered Barry Manilow boxed set, go to the CD Recycling Center of America or call a professional document destruction business near you.

Loring Cornish’s Miraculous Art Career

Loring Cornish is a religious man, with no background in the visual arts. But his work is included in two major museums, collected by individuals, and on permanent display in Baltimore and Los Angeles — on the sides of houses.
 
Cornish majored in Mass Communication in college and in 1998 moved to Hollywood to become an actor. He also looked after an artist friend who appeared to be dying of AIDS. During this time, his friend, Paul, taught him mosaic techniques, just to pass the time. (Eventually, Paul signed up for an experimental treatment that cured the symptoms and is well and working today.)

Loring Cornish's home which he covered with mosaics, in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo taken by Bonnie Schupp

Loring Cornish's home which he covered with mosaics, in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo taken by Bonnie Schupp.

Cornish rented a house in Paul’s neighborhood. He discovered termite holes in the floors under the carpet. When the landlord gave him permission to repair them, Cornish glued broken mosaic tiles in the spaces, incorporating a scriptural verse in each space. He enjoyed doing it. “My work comes out of my relationship with God,” Cornish said. “While I worship, I create, and while I create, I worship God.”

Loring Cornish sitting on his stoop in Baltimore. Photo taken by Ellen Saval.

Loring Cornish sitting on his stoop in Baltimore. Photo taken by Ellen Saval.

At the same time, he decided he was spending too much time doing nothing between movie takes, so he quit his acting job and spent all his time with mosaics. “One thing led to another,” Cornish said. “Pretty soon the floor and walls were covered with materials. I covered one whole wall with pennies.”
 
In 2001, after three years in his Hollywood home, Cornish was evicted although he had the money to pay his debts. Without leaving a forwarding address, he drove to his family home in Baltimore and stayed there for three months. Then he heard an inner voice tell him to get in touch with someone in California.
 
When Cornish called, he learned the home’s new owner had begun to remove all of his unusual renovations. But a new neighbor across the street loved the art so much she also rented the house to save it. Then everybody (including the L.A. Times) began talking about the thrilling images and the artist’s mysterious disappearance.

March on Washington by Loring Cornish. Photo taken by Will Kirk

March on Washington by Loring Cornish. Photo taken by Will Kirk. Cornish used the bottom of hundreds of shoes, side-by-side representing hundreds of people working together. The shoes are covered in square-shaped pieces of glass with white paint underneath each of the clear glass squares. The shoes and spaces between the glass have been covered with black grout.

Detail of March on Washington. Photo taken by Will Kirk

Detail of March on Washington. Photo taken by Will Kirk.

“My motto is turn typical into extraordinary,” he said. ” I’m so glad that I don’t listen to people who say ‘You shouldn’t’ or ‘What will people say?’ Life is too short to entertain such thoughts.”

Cornish returned to rent the California house from its new owner. He created and sold art there until moving back to Baltimore to be near his parents. He bought a row house and began covering the outside with materials found from local glass factories and on periodic dumpster dives. “I work with whatever I have on hand at the moment,” he said. “I use what finds me.”
 
While covering the front of his row house, Cornish took two or three tiles at a time up a ladder, singing all the while. He has also covered his home’s inner surfaces and sells art to private collectors.

Loring Cornish mosaic installation. Private collection

Loring Cornish mosaic installation. Private collection.

Cornish’s work is included in the permanent collection of Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Currently two pieces of his work are displayed in The Global Africa Project at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and he has a large one-man show at the Jewish Museum of Maryland which examines the struggles of Jews and African Americans.
 
Looking back, Cornish said that he’s grateful he took time out to help his friend, Paul. ”In the long run, he helped me.”

Cornish's mirrored bathroom inside his Baltimore home.  Photo by Bonnie Schupp

Cornish's mirrored bathroom inside his Baltimore home. Photo by Bonnie Schupp.

Cornish will hold public tours of his home in Baltimore on April 9 and 10. For more information, visit his website.

Malibu Wing House Almost Ready for Takeoff

Talk about a flight delay! Back in 2005, Francie Rehwald, an environmentalist and a major supporter of the arts in California, asked architect David Hertz and his firm, Studio of Environmental Architecture, to build her a house out of a retired passenger jet, specifically a Tower Air Boeing 747.

Architect's drawing of Wing House

Architect's drawing of Wing House.

Photo of house exterior

Main residence is almost complete. Photo: David Hertz.

The 5,500-square-foot wings from the deconstructed plane were delivered to the 55-acre site north of Malibu in June 2008. When Eco-Artware.com wrote about the project in The Rag in July of that year, Hertz expected to be taxing down the runway to completion within a year.

But getting clearance from 17 different government agencies before building could actually begin took 18 months. Once all the powers-that-be had signed off, construction started in earnest.

The wings are now in place as the home’s primary roof structure, and other parts have been delivered from the plane boneyard in the Mojave Desert by helicopter and crane. Part of the governmental approval process was getting permission to close five major freeways for a night while the rest of the 4.5 million oversized components were trucked to the site.

This isn’t the first time found objects have been used to build there. The late costume designer Tony Duquette created his fanciful compound, Sortilegium, out of found, recycled objects over a period of many years. It filled the site until it burned down in 1993, and Rehwald wanted to continue that spirit when she commissioned the Wing House.

While construction is set to be completed soon, Rehwald doesn’t plan to fully board the aircraft until next summer.

Houston’s (Beer) Can-Do House

John Milkovisch was a likeable and handy man. He worked as an upholsterer and linoleum installer for the Southern Pacific Railroad and lived in a small white clapboard house in Houston, which he bought from his father, who built it as a rental house in 1939.

Milkovisch liked to drink beer — he had a six-pack-a-day habit. For unknown and inexplicable reasons, for 17 years, he flattened and saved the empty beer cans. He’d remove the tops and bottoms, then store them in separate piles in his home.

HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU: Artist John Milkovisch in front of his home

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU: Artist John Milkovisch in front of his home

When he retired in 1968, he decided to reduce the chore of cutting the grass by paving part of his lawn. At about the same time, a nearby five-and-dime was going out of business. Milkovisch bought 15,000 marbles from the closing store and combined them with stones and glittery debris to create designs in the concrete of the growing patio. He liked the way it looked and continued to pave all the area around his home.

PRETTY SHINY OBJECTS: John Milkovisch’s labor-saving patio, embedded with marbles and other glittery things

PRETTY SHINY OBJECTS: John Milkovisch’s labor-saving patio, embedded with marbles and other glittery things.

That finished, Milkovisch strung his saved beer can tops on long strings so they would spin around. He placed several around the entire house to form melodious “curtains.” “You could hear them blocks away,” said his friend Marks Hinton.

Then Milkovisch decided to cover the sides of the house with the flattened beer cans nailed onto large sheets of wood. He said it insulated the home and eliminated the need to paint the exterior. The renovation took him 18 years and 39,000 beer cans to complete.

The neighbors liked it — good thing — and they thought it was art. Milkovisch didn’t agree. “Some people say this is sculpture, but I didn’t go to no expensive school to get these crazy notions,” he told an interviewer. After he and his wife died in 2001, a local nonprofit art preservation foundation bought and restored the property as a small museum, which is now open to the public.

WORK OF NON-ART: John Milkovisch never thought of his nearly two decades of home renovation as artistic, but his neighbors in Houston disagreed

WORK OF NON-ART: John Milkovisch never thought of his nearly two decades of home renovation as artistic, but his neighbors in Houston disagreed.

For more information, visit the website.

Another can-covered house in Silver Spring, Maryland, this one is covered with soda cans, is a work in progress.

And, here’s a toast to you, dear reader. Happy Oktoberfest.

John Boak’s Cabin in the Sky

Graphic artist John Boak lives with his wife and son in Denver. In 1998 they decided they wanted a vacation home, a cabin with a view somewhere in the nearby Rockies. After an intensive search, in 2000 they found their ideal half-acre covered with aspen trees, almost two miles above sea level. They hired a contractor to build a functional 1,200-square-foot building with all the necessities; the Boak family completed the exterior trim and all the interior finish using recycled, reused and repurposed material

The cabin was sited around this view, a vital part of the project

The cabin was sited around this view, a vital part of the project

Boak has sketched glyphs in odd moments for most of his life, and now some of them, cut from wood, adorn the outside of his second home.

Boak has sketched glyphs in odd moments for most of his life, and now some of them, cut from wood, adorn the outside of his second home.

Boak takes an improv approach to finishing the cabin: “Use available materials to feather your nest,” he says. Throughout the years, he has consulted the “endless dumpster” behind his house in the city and it has rewarded him with two oriental rugs, a hotel vacuum, a coffee maker, a toaster oven and a bed and springs, among other useful items that he has used in his work and the cabin.

Cabinets in the "Aggressive Rustic” kitchen are made from aspen logs, the doors from recycled industrial pallets. The decorative work is fashioned from pine branches and willow twigs found on hikes in Colorado and Utah.

Cabinets in the "Aggressive Rustic” kitchen are made from aspen logs, the doors from recycled industrial pallets. The decorative work is fashioned from pine branches and willow twigs found on hikes in Colorado and Utah.

Boak cut a lot of dead aspens to make these 36-inch long log tiles for the East Bedroom's walls.

Boak cut a lot of dead aspens to make these 36-inch long log tiles for the East Bedroom's walls.

Boak knew he would eventually find a use for the VW windshield he found 30 years ago: A coffee table, supported by aspen logs cleared from the cabin site.

Boak knew he would eventually find a use for the VW windshield he found 30 years ago: A coffee table, supported by aspen logs cleared from the cabin site.

The Boaks’ mountain retreat is still a work in progress. The family plans to start some landscaping and build a toolshed so they can move the bandsaw from their living space. Boak’s website features detailed drawings, photos, and explanations of the evolving cabin.

One Second of Convenience, 500 Years in the Landfill

I bought a veggie sandwich to go yesterday. At the very second I ordered, 2,628 other people throughout the United States also bought take-out food. According to the MSLK Design Firm, most carryout meals are packed in non-recyclable and non-compostable materials such as styrofoam, which can take five centuries to decompose in a landfill.

MSLK, a New York-based marketing and design firm committed to sustainable design, believes that people can better understand the damage done to the environment during one second than the enormous annual numbers we see all the time. Especially when environmental degradation is illustrated with objects from their everyday lives.

MSLK, which practices what it preaches by using wind power in its office and eco-friendly materials in its work, is on a mission to raise awareness about our unnecessary use of plastic and the waste it produces For this project, the designers asked people in neighboring office buildings to save their fast food and take-out containers, napkins and utensils. Then they mounted the throwaways on the numbers 2629, each number is is built of plywood which is 8′ high by 4′ wide.

Artist's photo of MSLK's installation

Artist's photo of MSLK's installation standing upright. It depicts the amount of take-out waste generated in one second.

The result? The “Take-Less” installation. The work also suggests eco-friendly alternatives to cut down on take-out waste: eat at home, dine in restaurants, support businesses that use sustainable packaging materials–compostable and recyclable containers. “Take-Less” will be displayed horizontally on a lush green lawn to remind viewers that our green spaces are being replaced by landfills.

Installation of numbers

Installation shown as exhibited. Do the math: 2,629 non-recyclable containers per second could fill this field faster than you can say, "Make that to go, please."

It will be exhibited at the upcoming Figment Art Festival on Governor’s Island in NYC on June 11-13. Take-Less will be displayed again at the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn, NYC, on September 24-26.

“Take-Less” is the third in MSLK’s series of eco-installations representing the amount of plastic consumed in one second in the U.S. In 2009 they created “Watershed” out of 1,500 disposable plastic water bottles, and in 2008, “2663 Urban Tumbleweeds,” a half-mile long chain of plastic shopping bags.

Visit the MSLK website to learn more about their designs for the environment and other projects.