Friday, July 21, 2017  

The Art of Making 'Old' New Again


What would you do with old doorknobs, odd boat parts, broken bed posts, scrap wood, rusted tractor parts, broken tools, smashed crab pots and other assorted used and abandoned stuff? Bag it all and take it to recycling perhaps? Or to the local dump? I suspect that’s what most of us would do. But there are some pretty interesting people who don’t see all that stuff as trash, they see it as raw materials for their art! This is the ultimate in recycling!

Gus Paphides of Kostas Kreations in Montross was inspired 14 years ago to create a birdhouse out of materials at hand. Concerned for the birds around their house during a snow storm, Gus’ wife, Elaine, asked him to go to town for a bird feeder. Rather than make that trek, he instead went to his shed, found an old dresser drawer and two pieces of wood and made his first birdhouse. Today, Gus’ bird houses, inspired by his love of English Tudor architecture, can be found in art galleries, shops, restaurants, private homes and even the Governor’s mansion. He later expanded his art to include carved Rockfish in honor of Virginia’s official fish and wide mouth bass. His unique style and artistic medium has motivated many a customer to request commissioned pieces, which have included tables, stools, even a 6’ serving table which graces the home of his neighbor.

But what everything that Gus creates has in common is that the wood he uses comes from what he finds on the shores of the Potomac River, in old sheds, burned out or abandoned houses and barns. He’ll kayak out on the Potomac with another kayak in tow to load up on wood. He passes up a lot as he searches the shoreline or digs through the remains of a dilapidated house. He’s looking for wood with grain, weathering, texture and character. And when he finds it, he knows just what he’ll do with it. “Once while searching a 
smelly old barn, I found what had been the pig trough. The wood was thick, 14” wide and full of worm holes.” He knew immediately it would become what became known as his “Scandinavian” birdhouses.

Page Winter of Montross was given a small welding gun when he was 16 and never looked back. Metal became his art medium. Artistic in high school in the 60s, he found he liked the mechanics of art, he liked building things. While still a teenager, he worked in a welding repair shop which led him to metal sculpture. That has been his passion to this day.
He uses manufactured metal items that, in his creative mind, resemble something else and creates what he sees. Cast iron feet from an old wood stove become a turtle’s feet, a wrench his head, an old soup pot his body. A tubing cutter forms a crab, rusty pliers an owl’s body. He uses brake pads, gear shifts, lawn mower blades, anything metal. He’s got a good source for all his materials: the Montross city dump! “I had to get permission to take anything from the dump. So, eventually, I just got a job there and then I could take what I want!” he explained.

Everything he makes is different, from 1 1/2” high brass sculptures to pieces towering 7’ tall. He’ll do commissioned pieces as well. About his welding career he said, “I’ve welded just about anything that’s ever been broken, any texture, color, strength. I’m ‘loose’ in my approach. I have no categories, no preconceptions. Art can be accessed from any direction.” His recent acclaimed exhibit at the Montross Museum clearly demonstrated that his art does indeed go in many different, creative and highly innovative directions.

A completely different approach to trash, and a purely altruistic one, is sponsored by the Fredericksburg Center for the Creative Arts (FCCA) in partnership with Calendon State Park. The “Trash to Art” event takes each year around Earth Day and is an all-volunteer effort to clean up the Potomac River beach in the Park. After collecting 
1154.3 pounds of trash, participants created “trash sculptures” which were judged and awarded prizes. What a perfect thing to do – make trash pick-up fun and creative! Anyone interested in next year’s event should email curator-frederick-gallery@fccava.org.
Inspired by Gus, Page and the volunteers at Calendon, I know I’ll look at old and weathered pieces of wood, metal and trash differently. Though, without their unique talents, I’ll still recycle it!