We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford’s black Model T. Cars of every shape, size – and color – now practically dominate American life. Which poses a problem – what to do with the cars once they’re piled high in junkyards. A recent public art project offered one passionate recycler a chance to reuse junked cars in his art. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has this story of “Art on Wheels”:
We’ve come a long way since Henry Ford’s black Model T. Cars of every shape, size – and color
– now practically dominate American life. Which poses a problem – what to do with the cars
once they’re piled high in junkyards. A recent public art project offered one passionate
recycler a chance to reuse junked cars in his art. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has this story of “Art on Wheels”:
The American landscape is filled with automobiles. Lines of fancy molded steel are everywhere
– in parking lots and bumper to bumper along the highways. Or, as Canadian folk singer Bruce
Cockburn once observed, a kind of “sheet metal ballet.” But, sadly, when the dance finally ends,
there’s nothing left but junkyards of crushed steel. A recent community art project suggested that
re-use could be an answer to the old environmental debate of what to do with all the junk.
(sound of kids at the art show)
Dozens of artists were asked to come up with their own unique ways to re-use at least some of
that automotive scrap for the recent “Art on Wheels” Project. Art teacher Bruce Adams describes
what he and his high school students call the “Environmentally Friendly Car.”
“There’s a picket fence on each side. The front we call the front lawn, because the surface is a
big, grass lawn, with a bird house, so the birds can live there over the summer. Then the back of
it, we call the backyard, it’s a garden, it’s a got a pond, it’s got a stream running down to the pond
– it had fish living in there all summer.”
Adams says they built the car as sort of an ironic commentary on the whole American dream
thing. That’s what many of sculptures in the exhibit were designed to do – to make a statement.
Other sculptures, such as the cement truck chicken, were simply intended to be outlandish. But
for one of the exhibit artists, Doug McCullum, re-use isn’t a novelty. It’s a lifelong expression.
You might even say an obsession.
“My sister broke her femur…I made a lamp out of her steel leg splint. It was a little strange
thinking that, you know, this thing spent six months in my sister’s leg –
but she kind of enjoyed the lamp.”
McCullum is, well, shall we say, passionate about re-use? Okay, so you might even call him the
Dr. Frankenstein of the junkyard. His Gremlin car sculpture from the exhibit features some of
his junkyard creations. They’re popping out of the roof, the hood, the doors and the gas tank.
Come meet Scratch, Knock, Guzzle, and the rest of the Gremlins gang.
“The car is covered in a wide variety of monsters, all named after things that go wrong with your
car – henceforth the name Gremlins. They are all made out of various things like air compressor
tanks, and old recycled drive shafts, and snow blower hoods, and old air tanks.”
No, McCullum isn’t an auto mechanic, or a junk dealer. He’s an architect by trade, who likes to
create recycled art in his spare time. But McCullum doesn’t have to go far for re-use materials
when he begins a project. He just walks downstairs and scrounges around in his basement.
McCullum says he saves everything – and he’s especially partial to automobile salvage.
“I have so much steel, and so much stuff that I’ve recycled in my basement that it would take a
small crew to move that stuff out, and that’s just the way I create.”
McCullum says there are plenty of worn out or broken parts from his own cars down there. And
he’s never one to pass up somebody else’s cast off muffler or tire tread abandoned at the side of
the road. McCullum hauls it all home for his next project. And if he does run into roadblock
while creating? McCullum says he loves to go shopping – at the junkyard of course.
“It’s like shopping at the mall for me. I like climbing through the piles, and digging through
something, and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Like, oh… this could be a great head, and sit
that aside… I go looking for a part and I come out with like a couple hundred pounds worth of
steel. Like, yeahhhh, like there was a big sale at the mall and I’m coming out with the spoils of
But make no mistake, for McCullum re-use isn’t an idle past time, it’s a professional and personal
commitment. As both an artist and an architect he says he believes in the beauty and the
possibility of preserving everything. McCullum says things can and should last. He says it’s
purely a matter of vision.
“Basically, anything that is discarded can be re-used in a wide variety of ways, just people don’t
have the vision or that kind of mentality to really think in a different way. And that’s really what
this whole project is about – the Art on Wheels thing in general – you can re-use everything.”
(sound of kid yelling, “Look a bug car! There’s a bug on top!”)
MCullum says the unusual automobile inspired sculptures were fun to make – and to look at.
Mind you, he doesn’t expect to see gremlin cars or cement truck chickens roaring down the
highway anytime soon. But McCullum says hopefully the exhibit will help turn people on to the
possibilities of recycling.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.