Trash transformed into art on display at the GoggleWorks in Reading

Carol Cole with her piece titled “Hunting Shield.”

Mark May’s piece titled “Chief Raven Thunder of the Osage Tribe” is part of “Ecologially Correct: The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers” at the Outsider Folk Art Gallery in the GoggleWorks.

Randall Cleaver with his piece called “Jungle Time.”
Trash transformed into art on display at the GoggleWorks in Reading
Discarded objects are used to create works of art, on display at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.
By Bruce R. Posten
Reading Eagle
Whimsy, creativity and even artistic self-fulfillment can be found in trash.But trash is such a garbage word.Call it the clever use of discarded objects that are born again, transformed into works of art.”Ecologically Correct: The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,” an exhibit running to June 14 at the Outsider Folk Art Gallery, Suite 504, at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, Second and Washington streets, celebrates the vision that everything old becomes new again.It is no accident such a display, emphasizing artistic recycling, is timely and dovetails with the upcoming annual Earth Day, April 22.”For me, it was always cheaper to make art with things I found in the street or in salvage yards or in dumpsters than to buy something new,” said Randall Cleaver, 50, Takoma Park, Md., formerly of Reading and Gibraltar, a 1977 graduate of Twin Valley High School.”When you tackle this type of art, you don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over again, because you can always come up with using something in a different way,” said Cleaver, a fine arts major who studied sculpture in college and has worked in Philadelphia-area museums as an art installer.Standing near his “Jungle Time” clock, Cleaver said he made the timepiece from old olive oil, cookie and mustard tin cans and them cut them in the shapes of leaves. He also filled the clock sculpture with the images of wild animals (a monkey swings from the pendulum, for instance.)Cleaver explained that the clock is programmed to emit 12 wild animal sounds, a different one each hour. The work is priced at $850, he said, also saying most of his sculptures run under $1,000.Another of his works is an orrery, made of discarded silver balls and gears and even parts of cars and clocks and lamps that represents the solar system with moons orbiting around planets.”To some extent, I’m motivated by wanting to preserve the past with some of my work,” said Mark May, 30, Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, another former Berks County resident whose unusual and quirky robotlike characters also are on exhibit.A 1997 graduate of Exeter High School who studied special education at Kutztown University, May said he has been a member of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers for the last five years.”Using stuff that I found lying around makes sense to me,” May said. “These days, people throw away so many things that still can be used. What I’m doing is also a little self-prescribed therapy.”May’s Chief Raven Thunder of the Oklahoma Osage tribe sits proudly atop a sawhorse in all of his recycled glory, a testament to the reusing of old wood, iron casting forms, garden tools, a coffee pot, bottle caps and a carved horse’s head that could have been part of a child’s rocking horse.His other sculptures also boast Christmas garlands, sash chains, movie theater armrests, wastepaper baskets and sewing machine parts and pieces.”Something that is thrown away can be beautiful in its own right,” said Carole Cole, 63, Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, another Dumpster Diver member and exhibitor at the gallery.Cole said her works, including shields inspired by tribal art from around the world, are made of paper pulp over an armature, intricately decorated with items such as old clothespins, bottle caps and upholstery tacks.”All of us (Dumpster Diver artists) have an ability to see some beauty in ordinary things,” she said. “I want people to look at my work and not realize right away what it is. I want them to take a second look, be surprised and laugh.”Simply to delight a viewer is the goal of other Dumpster Divers, too.Linda Lou Horn, 62, Philadelphia, a psychotherapist who, at age 50, followed her bliss to art, created clay and rusty coiled wire figures titled “Just Spring Free” and “Trapped With Little Chance of Escape.”A self-taught artist, Horn uses everything from an old xylophone to paper clips to create magical figures. One of them, featuring a vintage cheese grater, is called “Life Has Been Grating On Me.”And Ellen Sall, 57, Merion, Montgomery County, collects such things as spoons, forks, watchbands, zippers, tin cans, blenders, pots, hair dryers and chains to create whimsical lamps that not only aesthetically lighten the heart – but also light up a room.”There’s a lot of negativity and depression in the world,” said found-object artist David Gerbstadt, 40, Berwyn, Chester County, another exhibitor. “I like to spread a little love and happiness with my art.”Gerbhardt recycles almost anything old, including discarded canvases, doors and the paints themselves, to create his own paintings. He believes in rebirth, not just for things, but for himself, too.In 2007, he was hit by a small truck while bicycling. Paramedics worked to give Gerbstadt breath. When hospitalized in the next nine hours his heart stopped four times. Gerbstadt went through 40 units of blood.He survived, committing his own life to what he believes is a renewable and highly usable, artistic and motivational purpose.Contact Bruce R. Posten: 610-371-5059 or

Ecologically Correct: The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers Ron Schira review in The Reading Eagle

Linda Lou Horn “Life’s Been Grating On Me” Found Object Sculpture

Kathryn Pannepacker “Flag” woven plastic bags
ART COMMENTARY: Trash to treasure: Dumpster divers make art from garbage
By Ron Schira
Reading Eagle Correspondent
The environment has been on people’s minds of late, both in the news and sciences, and honestly, pollution and trash is a monstrous problem that needs to be addressed more sooner than later. And inasmuch as world issues find their way into the arts as quickly as they do, I have noticed a string of art exhibits that are not only about trash but composed of trash. The back-to-back exhibits by Peter Jon Snyder in Penn State Berks’ Freyberger Gallery and his current show in the Institute of the Arts are prime examples, as well as the Jon Elliot show at Albright College or the Curator’s Choice exhibit at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. These and other artists expound the virtue of defining a society by what it throws away.Neither condemning nor praising, they have utilized trash as a bona fide art form, following in the footsteps of European-based Art-Brut or Arte Povera, in which society’s detritus was employed as a means to create art when money was unavailable to purchase art supplies or to manifest a revolutionary art form free of the convention and power of the market place. Of course all of this is leading to the Outsider Folk Art Gallery’s presentation of “Ecologically Correct: The Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,” on view through June 14 in the GoggleWorks. This show has received a lot of press for its novelty as an alternative to throwing stuff away, but little has been said of it as a historical art form with profound roots in Modernism.Many of the artists presented have shown extensively in galleries and hold various degrees in art and teaching, notwithstanding the untrained artists of naĆ©?ve status that the gallery normally promotes. So the exhibit is not about the isolated artist working untrained and alone because it keeps him or her from going insane. One may also inquire as to why Harry Andersen, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree, or a world-renowned artist such as Kathryn Pannepacker would turn to such a nontraditional method of making art.

The answer would require an acknowledgement that much of art, painting in particular, has lost its meaning and no longer applies to the world as it once had. Paintings are, for the most part, contained in a rectangular format and restricted to limited interpretation. True tradition has been mired in symbols and nostalgia and does not carry as much significance when an object of memory and history is represented in paint as opposed to being placed right in front of you. The context changes even more when combined with other discarded objects to impose a narrative. Consequently they take on a larger perspective, regardless of the occasionally cute subject matter. Pannepacker’s “American Flag,” one of the best pieces, is woven together from innumerable plastic bags, relaying volumes about this country’s endless capacity for waste by its use of inherent material. Although the esprit de corps of so-called impoverished materials is politically and politely different from a group of Italian artists who attempted to break down the dichotomy between art and life by making sculptures from found objects, their relevance has become even more important in today’s climate by this large group of environmentally conscious artists reacting in an American context to our escalating trash problem. It is also gratifying to see the Outsider Folk Art Gallery step outside of its margins for this urgent and indispensable topic.Contact Ron Schira:

Creative Growth Art Center

Sue and I went to a family affair in San Jose a few weeks ago. We had the opportunity to spend a few hours at Creative Growth in Oakland. We have known about the great work they do, and have bought work of their artists for years. However, being there and interacting with the staff and artists is an experience I wish everyone could have.
Creative Growth is a daily art workshop for people with physical and mental disabilities. A patient gets recommended by their case worker, is interviewed, and if accepted, can work at Creative Growth indefinitely. It is a very uplifting experience to see handicapped artists reaching their full potential in life. The staff is experienced and dedicated.
We will be listing some of the pieces we purchased from Creative Growth on our site. Pieces from Dan Miller, Dwight McIntosh and Donald Mitchell. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we do.