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Salvaging art

Seeking scrappy beauty at SponCon 2006



On a cold, overcast day last September, Jesse Sturgis and four of his Bernice’s Bakery co-workers were hard at work, but they weren’t serving coffee or cooking pastries. They were scouring piles of recycled building materials in search of the raw building blocks they needed to create—or in their case re-create—a masterpiece. The result, “Madonna and Child in a Time Machine,” is a replica of the iconic image of Virgin Mary holding Jesus, created solely out of used building materials: light bulbs for the faces, stove piping for the bodies and chicken wire for Mary’s arms. The sculpture was completed in just four hours.

Sturgis and his co-workers were participating in Spontaneous Construction 2005, or SponCon, an event celebrating the second anniversary of Home Resource, a locally based nonprofit recycled building materials center.

“The piece got bought by a friend of mine,” Sturgis says with a laugh, “for five dollars.”

This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 26, from noon to 5 p.m. (registration for art teams has closed), and Sturgis is hoping his team can repeat its award-winning performance (judges honored their sculpture as the best use of the most materials).

“‘Madonna and Child’ took such a common image in art and reinvented it in such a beautiful way,” says Matt Hisel, Home Resource’s co-director.

In all, 15 sculptures were created last year, and some of those were auctioned off at a fundraiser last December, including “Don Quixote Rides Again,” a piece created by local artists Karen Slobod, Patricia Thornton and Patricia’s husband Tim. The piece, which sold for $205, was inspired by a single salvaged item: a sawhorse. From that point, Tim says, the team decided to build on the equestrian theme.

“It seemed like utter chaos in the beginning,” he says. Throughout the process, Tim says, he worked with “the image of Don Quixote’s armor being slapped together” for inspiration, and in the end, the sawhorse was joined with rusty chains, a brush head, pulley parts and lots of salvaged wood.

“[There’s] lots of subtlety with what they used to represent body parts,” Hisel recalls. “It also was kind of a commentary about what we’re doing here [at Home Resource].”

But SponCon isn’t just an art goof with recycled materials, it’s also Home Resource’s annual fundraiser; last year’s event raised $3,000 and helped pay for a new truck. This year, a silent auction featuring pre-made work by local found-object artists like Michael deMeng and Stephen Glueckert will run throughout the day, and spectators will also have a chance to bid on sculptures created on-site during the event.

Part of the proceeds from the auctions will go toward Home Resource’s expansion fund, earmarked for a future move to a new location and creation of a sustainability center to house a “green” building-materials store. Hisel estimates those projects will not be implemented for another year or two, and for now the majority of any money raised by SponCon will go to more immediate needs, like a new phone system.

Local artists are involved as much for the creative process as to support Home Resource’s cause. Slobod, for instance, says she’s proud to be a part of a larger artistic movement that makes use of materials that would normally end up in a landfill—a movement that’s directly in line with Missoula’s civic interest to sustainable living practices.

“I think it in some ways epitomizes the charm of Missoula,” she says. “It’s doing work that is about being socially responsible on many levels…Creativity and social responsibility go hand in hand.”

As for this year’s sculptures, both Sturgis’ and Thornton’s teams plan to assemble something entirely different. Exactly what that might be, however, is impossible to say—Sturgis is interested in building a functional sculpture and Thornton says his wife wants to create some sort of animal, perhaps a bear. If this year’s event is anything like last year’s, what ultimately gets made will be dependent on what sort of junk is available.

“Last year we found this weird motor that went to a fan, and we called it a flux capacitor,” Sturgis says, referring to the time-travel mechanism in Back to the Future. “That’s where the time machine idea came from.”

With that sort of abstract stretch—from sawhorses and fans to Don Quixote and Jesus—the landfill is the limit.

Home Resource’s SponCon 2006 takes place Saturday, Aug. 26, on the grounds of Home Resource, located at 825 W. Kent Ave. Sculpture construction starts at noon and ends at 5 PM. An after-party with food, drink and live music by Hot Tub of Frenchtown and Mudslide Charlie starts at 5 PM and goes until 10 PM. The art-making event is free, the after-party is $7. For more information, call 541-8300.

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