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One Man’s Trash – Soda Bottles, Junk Mail and, Yes, Chicken Bones Become Art

Mark Bannerman tends to walk with his head down, constantly scouring the ground for discarded and forgotten knickknacks.

He doesn’t romanticize what he does. “It’s other people’s trash,” he says. “That’s what I’m picking up.”

But Bannerman sees more than trash when he reaches down to pick up that rusty nail or aluminum can carelessly tossed aside. Those long-forgotten throwaways could eventually find their way into one of his collages. One piece included a dead, dried-up frog.

“A lady said she would buy the piece if I could take the frog off of it,” Bannerman said.

There were no dead frogs contained in the collage Bannerman submitted for the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County exhibit, “Recycle! It’s Second Nature.” There were chicken bones, however, and other scraps contained in his collage of chickens.

In fact, every piece in the recent show consisted primarily of discarded materials that were recycled and transformed into art. The Arts Council and the City of Fayetteville hoped that the show highlighted the importance of recycling and promoted the city’s new curbside recycling program, which began July 7.

“I think when people see the artwork they’ll understand a little bit better what can be reused,” said Jerry Dietzen, the city’s solid waste director. “This is kind of a fun way to do it.”

All of the art exhibited contained recycled material, but with many of them you’d have to look closely to figure that out. There was Erica Stankwytch Bailey’s necklace made of discarded junk mail (shown left) and Luis Luges hodgepodge of household materials crafted into flowers.

Bits and pieces taken from here and there became collages and sculptures.

“The artist sees art in the things we would normally throw away,” said Kellie Tomita, who handles community relations for the Arts Council.

On the exhibit’s opening night, curious onlookers not only gawked at the art, but also felt the need to occasionally reach out and touch it as well.

“Should we be touching this?” asked Diane Farmer of Fayetteville while looking at a sculpture of a vintage car fashioned out of old bottle tops and cans, among other things. “I can’t help it. You just point to items when you see them.”

That certainly was the case with Bannerman’s piece, “Drumsticks and Thighs,” which took the first-place prize in the exhibit’s 18-and-older division.

“To me trash becomes a treasure,” he said. “You see people looking at the work, and they start to look closer. After a while it becomes a kind of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ type of thing. They’re looking to see what they can find.”

From a distance, Bannerman’s collage looked more like a painting. But a closer look revealed a glimpse of newspaper clippings, a tarnished penny and even a small picture of Raquel Welch, the famous beauty known for, let’s say, a certain cut of chicken.

Bannerman often finds himself going through the trash at Whiteville High School, where he teaches art.

“I think we overlook a lot of things,” he said. “Of course, when you’re into finding those hidden treasures people leave behind it kind of turns you into a pack rat. “

Bannerman has used trash and other overlooked items to craft collages depicting saltwater fish, cows, chickens and tobacco. The Indiana native goes through phases in terms of what he wants to create. But his medium is almost always trash.

“When I heard about the exhibit in Fayetteville I thought, ‘This is right up my alley,’” Bannerman said.

Bailey found a use for the junk mail that piled up in her Fayetteville home. She sorted the paper by color, soaked them overnight and blended them in small batches in her kitchen blender. The blender hasn’t been the same since, she said. Bailey shaped the pulp into balls and dried them in the sun. The results were the perfect round “beads” of a necklace she strung together on (mostly) reclaimed copper wire. Anyone looking at the finished work would guess that she used dye or glue, but Bailey says there was enough ink and binder in the junk mail that she didn’t need to add a thing.

“This was a fantastic realization,” she said, “as I wanted to resource as much as possible.”

And other artists found new use for old things.

There was Richard Oldorff’s “Can Man,” a sculpture of a robot made almost entirely of tin cans, and Mackenzie McMillan’s “Daydream,” a sculpture of a human head covered in old newspapers, which also won awards in the exhibit’s art competition.

To reinforce the exhibit’s theme of reusing discarded materials, Dietzen and the city’s partner in the recycling effort, Waste Management, handed out information about recycling and the new curbside recycling pick-up program which, began July 7, on the exhibit’s opening night. Another piece of recycled work, Waste Management’s Recycler the Robot, mingled with the Arts Council crowd as they gawked at his plastic-bottle innards and tin-can limbs.

“Waste Management uses the robot to help promote recycling,” Dietzen said. “It’s just another example to show people what can be done with recycled materials.”