Your trash, their treasure: art from recycled materials


With spring cleaning comes the urge to discard and replace, but there are notable exceptions. Sometimes it’s a higher priority to reuse and recycle.

One person’s trash is the backbone, or accent mark, in wondrous artwork for another. Consider these examples.

For years, I have noticed and occasionally photographed the big, eccentric and rusting junkyard sculptures that face U.S. 12 next to Delaney’s Surplus Sales, between Sauk City and Baraboo. Across the road is the former Badger Ammunition Plant.

The sculptures are the work of Tom “Dr. Evermor” Every, who at age 47 gave up his work in industrial wrecking and began to build a world of fantasy with castoff materials.

What you from the highway is such a small part of his vast legacy. Dr. Evermor’s 1983 Forevertron – 50 feet high, 120 feet wide and at least 300 tons – sits behind the salvage yard and is dubbed the world’s biggest sculpture made of scrap metal.

Also on the acreage is the Bird Band, an orchestra of 85 sculptures whose designs incorporate vintage musical instruments, and many other pieces of art made with junk.

Today the artist is 75 years old and lives in a nursing home because of two strokes, but relatives say his mind is sharp and still creating new works. Son Thayer Every of Stoughton does the building and welding.

“He still has amazing ideas,” Tya Kottler says, of her father. “I just love that we still have him and his mind.”

Father and son, for a while, worked on a new art installation near I-90 and Wisconsin 59. When vandals began removing copper and brass embellishments, the sculptures were moved to an undisclosed location.

“I see things in stuff that nobody would dream of seeing,” the artist told me a couple of years ago. “I got enough (materials) to work 20 more years, but I’m not going to last that long.”

He spoke matter-of-factly, as does his wife, “Lady Eleanor,” who gives impromptu tours in the Forevertron park.

“Rain doesn’t stop me, but snow does,” says the longtime costume designer. Now she’s the buyer of metals for her family’s art, “and that’s as exciting as buying fabrics.”

Look for an orange gate, behind the salvage yard at 57703 U.S. 12. If it’s open, you are welcome to enter for free, but donations are appreciated.

The site tends to be accessible from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Artist Pat Bishop of Appleton also sees beauty in materials that others wouldn’t think twice about throwing away. Painted grocery bag scraps, candy wrappers, drywall tape, birch bark and snippets of kimono silk are among the materials she uses to create fiber art on display at Wausau’s Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.

“Much of my art is inspired by nature,” her artist’s statement explains.

“Salvage and Selvage: Artwork by the Fiber Artists Coalition” is one of three parts of the “RePurposed and ReImagined” exhibition, in place until June 15.

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Jennifer Angus adds the unusual “Nature Composed,” wall hangings with intricate and precise patterns that are made by carefully stick-pinning hundreds of ordinary and exotic insects into place.

“ReDress: Upcycle Style” by Nancy Judd of New Mexico shows off fashion designs that use often-ordinary recycled materials: plastic shopping bags, beverage containers, shattered glass, shredded car tires and more. Some of these works were commissioned by well-known brands that include Target, Delta and Coca-Cola.

Staffers at the museum, 700 N. 12th St., Wausau, are using these artistic expressions as way to introduce lessons in recycling to children and adults., 715-845-7010

Upcoming events include a May 3-4 runway show of fashions designed by UW-Madison students. Participants include Rachel Bordeleau of Hobart, a junior who is studying textile and apparel design.

She used two cotton bed sheets from a thrift store, found buttons and cottonseeds from her family’s dairy farm to create a pair of overalls with matching hat.

“The overalls were a challenge all around” since she used car tires as part of a batik dying process. They “were very unconventional to use, bulky and heavy” but produced “an interesting result.”

My personal trash vs. treasure mission soon will encompass 100 miles of driving along the Mississippi River. I expect good scenery and good deals during the 100-mile Garage Sale, May 1-4, an annual event that involves people in and near 15 riverside communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Thousands of participants put out sales signs from Fountain City to Prescott on our side of the river, and Winona to Hastings in Minnesota. Friends and I will use and as our guides for sale locations and places to indulge in other ways.

Also on my radar is the May 6-10 Divine Consign sale at Oakwood Church, 3041 Oakwood Rd., Hartland. These periodic sales pop up six times per year in the greater Milwaukee area.

Some participants just want to shop. Others also sell their gently used clothing and accessories. Divine Consign organizers get a chunk of the proceeds; volunteer workers gain gift certificates for shopping or receive more money (up to 75 percent) for their consigned items.

Local charities also benefit from these events, and merchandise suits a wide swath of sizes and ages.

The abundance of resale/consignment shops in Wisconsin stretches way beyond the longstanding Goodwill, Bethesda, Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores.

Five of my personal favorites for women’s clothing are:

Agrace Thrift Store, 118 Junction Rd., Madison (proceeds benefit a hospice program; also at 1733 Thierer Rd., Madison, and opening soon in Janesville)., 608-833-4556

Nice as New, 2400 Rib Mountain Dr., Wausau (other outlets are in Stevens Point and Appleton)., 715-845-3328

9 Lives Boutique, 835 Geneva St., Lake Geneva (proceeds help Lakeland Animal Shelter)., 262-248-3122

The Pink Poodle, 6017 Odana Rd., Madison., 608-276-7467

Retique Store, 190 N. Broadway St., Milwaukee (an outlet for higher-end Goodwill donations, in the trendy Third Ward)., 414-273-1797