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Trash Culture

Artists find rapture with scrapture at the dump

By Gretchen Giles

Cool, overcast, and with the wind blowing exactly the right way--it's a beautiful day at the dump. Fans of that former ersatz Western ramshackle known as Recycletown raised a stink a few years back when diminishing space prompted the Sonoma County landfill's tough decision to bulldoze the place. But fear not--Recycletown has been born again. Reopened to the public this January, the wood-planked walkways and saloon facades may be gone, but you know that it's still Recycletown because of all the art.

Guarding one side of this open-faced building is Scott Davaly's tongue-in-cheek salute, "The Throne of Caltrans." At least 7 feet tall, this welded metal chair in that distinctive orange hue has huge cutout arrows pointing in confusing directions on its back. "Because you never know which way to go!" Davaly crows with evident delight.

Wade Belew rubs the salvaged redwood of his gallowslike bell stand--the deep resonant bell itself fashioned from a diver's pressure tank cut in half--and brushes cobwebs from this freestanding piece.

Metal sculptor Tim Boucher removes a pile of official-looking waste management materials to reveal an iron table he has fashioned out of castoffs from his day job at an architectural welding firm. "In the trades," he says,"there's so much waste it's scary. Of course," Boucher adds, "it's bad in terms of overproduction of new stuff, but great for us."

These artists have joined education and events director Brian Belsardi on a chilly early summer morning to discuss the 17th annual "Oh Rapture, It's Scrapture!" event slated for June 21 at Cotati's La Plaza Park. A day of free music and food, this celebration of the imagination engenders fierce but friendly competition among Bay Area artists in professional and amateur categories.

"To see art is one thing," Belsardi says, "but to be involved with it is another. We don't want people to just see things as trash, but to consider what might be done with it."

Belew, who produces a regular environmental radio segment on KRSH 95.9 FM, leads Sonoma Land Paths tours, and builds bird boxes, often chooses his found objects for their tonal qualities. A longtime member of the Sonoma County Woodworker's Association, he is currently immersed in the beauty of old redwood. "I didn't used to appreciate redwood because it was all around us, but now I think that it's like gold. I'm on a mission to salvage as much old-growth wood as I can."

Tim Boucher has been dumpster diving since high school and was both amazed and horrified by what was available in the bins of his Colorado college town. "Students would just dump their whole apartments before leaving," he remembers. Trained as a painter, he stretched his own canvases using discarded bed sheets and other fabrics he found. But the sculptural opportunities provided by old objects and his welding job intrigued him more.

All of these men share a passionate distaste for American trash culture, in which televisions are as disposable as magazines. They hope that their work as artists will help the rest of us understand that, as Boucher says, "objects have an energy that's important." Adds Belsardi, "As a big consumer culture, we tend to lose understanding of how things work, that those things that are produced have to end up somewhere."

And there's no doubt that they mean this, but there's also no doubt that these inveterate collectors of the castoff really enjoy making a great find and transforming it. Davaly turned an old spotlight into a deco-style light table; Boucher took a wrench and built a massive iron bug of sprockets and hooks, using this single inspiration as the spine.

"It is," Davaly admits with a smile, "all about what you find."


'Oh Rapture, It's Scrapture!' enlivens our trash culture on Saturday, June 21, 10am-4pm at La Plaza Park, Old Redwood Highway at West Sierra Avenue, Cotati. Free. 707.795.1395.

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From the June 19-25, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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