Reclaimed junk finds new life in Park Rapids sculpture garden

Whether shaped like people and animals, or just to as an arbor-arch to enter the viewing area, Clayton Johnson’s sculptures show that things people throw away may still have life in them.

The materials Johnson used are leftover items from area thrift stores. He spent a year and a half creating his sculptures before they were installed last September.

“All the materials were gathered, donated,” Johnson said. “They’re things that didn’t sell at Salvage Depot or at the Tin Ceiling or Bearly Used. They’re all things that they had on the shelves for a while, or they didn’t see that they could sell, and they were all in a big dumpster.”

To start, he took the whole receptacle home and started “dumpster diving,” asking himself, “How am I going to put all this stuff together?”

Clayton Johnson's scrap metal characters, made from donated items that the Hubbard County DAC couldn't sell, include a Native American inspired figure and a person walking a pet. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Clayton Johnson’s scrap metal characters, made from donated items that the Hubbard County DAC couldn’t sell, include a Native American inspired figure and a person walking a pet. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

The arbor-arch was one of the first concepts that came together, he said, because he wanted a contained area that people could enter and experience the things around them.

Then “they showed me the school bench, cast iron pieces that were all rusty and corroded,” he said, pointing out a seat in the area. “I cleaned them all off. It’s reclaimed wood that we put on there.”

A rule he set for himself was “to try to keep things as intact as possible,” he said. “I could have cut the metal up into little pieces and built an absolutely perfect form, but that wouldn’t show what this place is. So, I tried to reuse things in a way that you can say what it is, what it’s from.”

For example, he found a hand-truck that had been cut in half and discarded, thinking, “This could be a torso. Then I thought, what am I going to use for feet or legs?”

Clayton’s wife, Laura Johnson, is the executive director of the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center. She said it has been fun to watch and listen as people visiting the sculpture garden react to the images they discover.

The kneeling figure on the left has spark plug eyes, saws on its back, a shovel head, and jumper cable clamps for hands. The "barbecue ninja" next to it was built out of kitchen items, including a hibachi grill. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

The kneeling figure on the left has spark plug eyes, saws on its back, a shovel head, and jumper cable clamps for hands. The “barbecue ninja” next to it was built out of kitchen items, including a hibachi grill. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

She called turning old things into something new “a big part of our program.”

Besides giving surplus items a second life, Clayton said, “It also goes that step beyond and lets you use your imagination and think, ‘What could it possibly be?’”

He talked about “trying to give (the sculptures) character, like they’re looking somewhere,” or like a humanoid figure is holding a leash and walking something that “doggish type of figure.”

“People can use their own imaginations,” Laura said. “He didn’t make it so that it’s obvious. They can establish what they want. But he

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Selfies Saving The Reefs: Underwater Sculpture Garden in Palm Beach County

Divers and snorkelers will be able to take selfies around an underwater sculpture garden — 55 artificial reef modules attached to the seafloor. It’s all in the name of saving the environment in Palm Beach County.

The artificial garden features more than 50 tons worth of sculptures by noted marine artist and sculptor Chris O’Hare, owner of Reef Cells, who sculpted a 3D modeled mermaid reef and a memorial dedicated to veterans and first responders.

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The 1000 Mermaids Artificial Reef Project partnered with Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management for its second-annual public art installation.

Evan Snow is the executive director and project manager. Snow says the artificial reef deployment is an eco-tourism destination that helps coral restoration and fish biodiversity.

“This is the highest level of the intersection of art, science, technology, and coral restoration,” Snow said. “This is the peak of the moment of a very important fight to save the reefs.”

Snow says the attraction is one of the few ways to “raise awareness” about the dying coral reefs. Since the problem is underwater, he says it’s difficult to spread the message to the public.

“The coral reefs are out of sight, out of mind, for so many people and we know that,” Snow said. “It’s not a front-of-mind priority as is saving the Florida panthers or the manatees as we were growing up because you can see them.”

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1000 Mermaids Artificial Reef Project

Underwater sculpture garden

The Florida Reef Tract is suffering from an active coral disease outbreak, tissue loss and other symptoms which started off the coast of Miami-Dade County in 2014.

It affects “nearly half of Florida’s 45 reef-building coral species,” according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Snow says everything is connected, from the coral reefs to the Everglades. And there are ecological and economic benefits to saving the coral ecosystem—any regular person can be part of the restoration process through “art, citizen science, and education.”

“Even if you don’t live on the water, the coral reefs are our first line of protection against storm surge. Against flooding. They break down the wave energy that literally allows the wave to currently reach our coastline at the rate they are now,” Snow said. “If the reefs die … and there is no first line of defense to break down the wave energy, it is literally accelerating the rate that we’re going to be underwater in Florida.”

Divers can start Monday, off of Peanut Island near the Blue Heron Bridge.

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