If it's in you, you gotta do it
We're told to follow our bliss, but as a practical matter, bliss is
hard to find, let alone follow. For most of us, our Big Thing doesn't just
walk up and announce itself in neon colors. Some find it early while others,
like the artists featured here, came upon theirs in mid-life, after they had
established a career and a lifestyle without it. Here's how it worked
Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park
Folk art Paul Bunyon and team of oxen.
Fred Smith's Wisconsin Concrete Park
Fred Smith was born in 1886 and worked as a lumberjack near his home in
Phillips, Wisconsin. When he was 50, he built a tavern with two other
men and eventually managed it when he retired from working in the woods,
at age 62 - when he also became an artist.
Self-taught, and with no previous experience, he began creating a
series of interrelated, larger-than-life sculptures of cowboys, miners, Indians
and soldiers, Ben Hur, Paul Bunyan, all from concrete. Smith ornamented his
creations with beer bottles from the tavern and added found objects
such as auto reflectors. He once said, "Nobody knows why I made them, not
even me. . I started one day in 1948 and have doing a few a year ever since."
Smith also incorporated real objects into his work. Actual horse
skulls are used for armatures of the concrete horses shod with iron shoes,
arranged in tableaux pulling real buggies and sleighs. He worked on this project
for 15 years, until he had a stroke in 1964. Smith died in 1976, but his
project, called the Wisconsin Concrete Park, is now owned by the county and
open to the public, free of charge.
Ben Hur with full chariot team.
Fred Smith's Concrete Park:
N8236 State Highway 13, Phillips, WI
Directions: North-central Wisconsin, south of Phillips on Hwy. 13.
Phone: (715) 339-6475
John Preble's UCM Museum
Louisiana artist John Preble lives and works in Abita Springs, a
one-stoplight town with 2,000 residents about an hour north of New
Orleans. He earns a living with his paintings of Louisiana subjects, especially
portraits of Creole women, and by managing entertainer, Bobby Lounge. He
developed a new artistic vision after visiting a roadside museum
housing a miniature Western town, during a family trip to New Mexico.
A longtime eclectic collector, Preble decided to use the assorted
bric-a-brac that spilled out of his home as the nucleus of a private
museum, and began constructing additional displays for it. He bought some nearby
buildings in 1996, then opened the Unusual Collections and Mini-town
or UCM (pronounced You-See-'Em) Museum in 2000.
John Preble's display of Lil Dub's BBQ which is also a
good place to get gas.
The main entrance through a 1950s gas station leads to a complex that
features an old cottage called the House of Shards. Why? Because Preble
covered the outer stucco walls with his collection of thousands of
pieces of broken glass, tiles, mirrors and china. Inside, it houses a display of
Other buildings contain collections of garden hoses, cell phones, bottle
caps, old signs, working jukeboxes and pinball machines. The exhibit
hall contains Preble's handmade displays - miniature scenes that portray
rural Southern life including a Mardi Gras parade, a New Orleans jazz
funeral, a haunted plantation, an outhouse and more - all constructed from found
objects; some are mechanized.
Darrell, a composite dogagtor guards a collection of
vintage barbed wire. He is made from liquid nail putty, wood, and a real gator head.
The UCM Museum
22275 State Highway 36, Abita Springs, LA 70420.
Phone: (985) 892-2624.
There is a $3 admission charge for visitors over three years old.
Lihidheb Mohsen's Sea Memory Collection
Lihidheb Mohsen was born in 1953 in Zarzis, a fishing village in the
south of Tunisia, close to the Mediterranean. He speaks four languages, has
written 150 "eco-poems" and has worked as a civil servant in the post
office as well as a journalist and social activist.
When he was 41, Mohsen decided to reacquaint himself with the sea and
stayed on the beach all the time even in extreme circumstances - 110-degree
heat and hurricanes - to broaden his experience with nature. As he
explored the shore, he collected objects that had been washed up and stored them
near his home.
The pile grew. He now holds the Guinness World Record for the largest
collection of garbage and litter washed on shore- including more than
100,000 bottles - which became the basis of his Sea Memory Collection
Once he found a wedding dress among belongings of travelers who had
drowned in the Mediterranean. To help complete her mission, he provided the
owner with her missed wedding procession from the sea to his museum where the
dress is carefully displayed.
Nadia and The Bottle Eater
Eventually, he decided to create sculptures with the litter and
recycle them in place to protest against pollution. He enlisted 11 school children to
help him collect the trash and build the sculptures and soon, as they
spent more time out of doors, they also became aware of shells, turtles and
sea birds and developed an respect for the environment.
An assistant paints an installation.
For his sculptures built in the nearby salt lake, Mohsen colors the
tires and fills the bottles with water to provide weight and reflect light.
Unlike sand castles, his sculptures are designed to be permanent and have
withstood hurricanes with little damage.
He does not have a permit to build in the lake and he said that if
people do not like them, they can take them down. "For me, I have done it, got it,
and took it in photo." So far, nobody has complained; in fact, Mohsen's "sacrées bouteilles"
have been featured in a French television documentary.
Shake Hands with the Sea
by Lihedheb Mohsen
To learn more about Lihidheb Mohsen, visit his web site:
The Sea Memory Collection museum is located in 4170 Zarsis, Tunisia.
The Search for Sea Glass
Natural materials in diminishing supply
Unlike artists who work with oil paint, wool or stone, those using
the same found materials repeatedly hope that these supplies - not available in
stores - will still be around in a few years.
Jessica Lee taking a break at her "glass beach."
Silversmith Jessica Lee, who works with sea glass, understands the
problem well. In 1990 she discovered an abundant supply of glass washed up
on shore from the sea on a California beach that had been used as a dump in the
1920s. Because it had interesting colors and was free for the taking, she
collected a large supply and incorporated it into her jewelry. People liked
it and soon her sea glass-and-silver jewelry was sold throughout the country.
But times change. Now natural sea glass is more difficult to find
because manufacturers have replaced glass jars with plastic and stricter
littering laws are enforced. The scarcity has caused some artists to use new
glass tumbled and etched to resemble the patina of glass tempered by the
sea and sand, because such manufactured "sea glass" is relatively easy to
Lee is one of the few who still use natural pieces, although she
has to work harder to find it at her California beach. Now she goes for two-day
picks, several times a year.
"I love to go in the winter - with the storms there is a better
chance to find the good stuff," she said. "Picking is actually hard work; it
requires a lot of crawling and squatting. But when I am there all I can
think of is how lucky and blessed I am to be at 'the other office.'"
Eco-Artware carries several of Jessica Lee's
sea glass earrings,
bracelets and necklaces.
To learn more about sea glass, see the book, "Pure Sea Glass:
Discovering Nature's Vanishing Gems," by Richard LaMotte.
Works by Canadian Artist Exhibited at Two Museums
Prototype for New Understanding #16, 2004 by Brian Jungen. Made from Nike Air Jordans and human hair.
Vancouver-based artist Brian Jungen was born in 1970 to an Aboriginal mother
and a Swiss-Canadian father, and the contradictions between native Indian
traditions, pop culture and consumerism provide focus and themes for most of
Two current exhibits, on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, reflect his
eco-consciousness as well as his talent in transforming everyday objects
into thought-provoking art.
The first comprehensive survey of Jungen's work is currently shown at the
Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal, through Sept. 10. It consists of 50
pieces completed during the past ten years, and shows his early drawings as
well as his latest sculptures and installations. Jungen's forms are
unexpected because he reshapes and rearranges ordinary consumer goods -
baseball bats, beer coolers, cafeteria trays and shoeboxes - into surprising
The exhibit contains Jungen's series of 23 masks, Prototype for New
Understanding (1998-2005) which first attracted public attention to his
work. These are simulations of Northwest Coast Aboriginal masks which are
made from disassembled red, white and black Michael Jordan Nike sneakers. It
also presents another large series of three full-scale sculptures of whale
skeletons made from plastic lawn chairs (2000-2003).
Cetology, 2002 by Brian Jungen. Made from plastic chairs suspended from the ceiling.
This presentation, the last North American stop on
the exhibition's tour, is at the
Musee d'art contemporain,
185, Sainte-Catherine Ouest (corner of Jeanne-Mance) Montréal, Québec Phone:
Jungen created a new work, People's Flag, specifically for the Level 2
Gallery at the Tate Modern, where it will be exhibited through July 9. It
consists of a 15' x 28' red flag constructed out of mass-produced materials:
Bags, hats, clothes, small plastic kitchen tools and umbrellas are stitched
together into a quilt. It is partly inspired by his interest in Greenpeace
and, in particular, the banners made by members of this group which began in
Vancouver. The color and form of this flag refer directly to the worker's
anthem "The Red Flag," originally written as
a poem by Jim Connell,
an Irish political activist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG, is open
Monday-Friday, 9.00 to 17.50. Phone: 020-7887-8008 (+44 20 7887 8008).
According to Megan Nicolay, author of Amazon's best-selling craft book,
"Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt," "62 percent of
Americans claim to own more than 10 T-shirts. That's 1.5 billion tees, and if you
lined them up, they'd circle the globe 34 times."
The book, which provides instructions for making everything from knee
huggers to wedding dresses and even offers no-sew projects, climbed
to the top of the charts quickly after its release in February. For a
sample, check out instructions for two projects in our Crafts section,
reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher, Workman
Publishing Co. If you want more, "Generation T"
is also available in our bookstore.
Call to Artists: New Juried Art Competitions
Red Bull Accepting Entries for the 2006 Art of the Can Contest
Red Bull Energy Drink announced its national 2006 Art of the Can
contest in April. Selected original works of art created out of Red Bull cans
will be displayed in one of three public exhibitions taking place this fall
in three cities: Atlanta, Dallas and Minneapolis. A distinguished panel of
judges and art critics will determine the top winners in each of the three
cities. A grand prize winner will be selected in each city and each will
receive an expense-paid trip for two to Art Basel, a contemporary art fair in
Interested artists can register online at
Entries from Atlanta and Dallas must be submitted by July 22, 2006 while entries from
Minneapolis must be submitted by August 12.
The first U.S. contest, which took place in Boston in 2005, received
entries from 400 artists from 44 states and 11 different countries.
2006 Déja Vu All Over Again
Juried Exhibit for Art Made with Recycled/Reused Materials Accepting
The Art Council of Columbus, Indiana, is accepting applications for the
third annual juried exhibit for art and fine crafts from artists who
reuse or recycle pre-consumer and/or post-consumer waste materials, in
whole or in part. The exhibit, to be held on November 11 in Columbus, will
present merit and purchase awards totaling $1,500.
Applications can be downloaded at
and must be returned or postmarked by September 1; artists will be notified by e-mail about the
status of their entries by September 14.
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