High School Paper on Recycled Art

I get quite a few emails from high school kids who are writing about recycled artwork for a class assignment and want to ask me some questions about my work. Recently, I got the following message through Etsy:

Our 14 year old is a performer and, to work around
his travel schedule, he’s in an online high school program this year
for 9th grade. He’s currently taking an art class and was given a
project wherein he has to write about an artist who uses recycled
materials. After searching online, he came across your web page, your
"green" incentives and your bottlecap fish and decided you would be the
perfect artist to write about. I think he’d be tickled if he could ask
you some questions directly, although he’s read almost every blog he
can find about you (that sounds a little creepy, sorry!!) Would you be
interested in visiting via email with him about your art and recycling?
I know he has some specific questions he’s been pondering.

Although I missed the opportunity to chat with Hayden before he wrote his paper, he did an amazing job on it and was kind enough to send me a copy to read. The quality of writing is amazing for a 9th-grader! Better, in fact, than some of the pieces I’ve seen from professional journalists. Below is a video of one of his performances.

I asked Hayden if I could share his work here on the blog and he graciously agreed:

Turning Trash into Beauty
by Hayden Stark

Would you hang trash on your living room wall? Artists who use recycled materials as their media most certainly would. John T. Unger of Michigan supports himself and his family by creating art out of discarded junk. Some of the items he uses in his art are recycled steel, metal from old automobiles, recycled glass, and bottle caps. “This is the best way I know to minimize my impact on natural resources, climate and the environment,” says Unger, (John T. Unger website).

Of all the pieces Unger displays on his website, I was most intrigued by his rendition of fish created with bottle caps, recycled metal from automobiles, primed wood, recycled household items and nails. However, Unger does not randomly throw in a bunch of bottle caps and call it good. Unger spends his time, strategically sorting out and placing each bottle cap by color, size, shape and brand. Once sorted out, Unger washes, dries, punches and partially crimps each bottle cap and then finally nails it into an overlapping pattern. This overlapping pattern resembles the scales of a fish and brings each fish to life as the metal from the bottle caps glisten when exposed to light. “When you look at one or two caps from any brand, they’re generally not all that impressive. But when you group hundreds of them together and let them catch the sunlight, they truly glow,” (Unger, John T., Bottle Cap Mosaic Fish). As well as bottle caps, Unger also uses recycled metal from old automobiles to use as the fish’s fins and tailfins and with a humorous wit, Unger also uses household items as the fish’s tailfin! In furthering my first question, I ask again with more vigor: Would you hang a thousand bottle caps, an old car hood and a common rake on your living room wall?

I certainly would! The bottle cap fish intrigued me most of all of Unger’s artwork. The way that he uses the bottle caps and positions each one precisely makes the fish unique. And using a rake or a dust pan for some of the fish’s tails was hilarious and really caught my attention. I have never seen someone be so creative before!

I would say that John T. Unger has captured a unique media that really resembles fish scales. His unique patterns and the fact that he groups colors of bottle caps, makes a whimsical and fun piece of artwork. I think in history, his art will pass the test of time. The quality of his work will uphold many years. Because he uses a media that we still use today, bottle caps, I would say that his art is timeless. If, some day, we stop using bottles and therefore stop using bottle caps, the value of his art might go up because his media would be in high demand.

I believe John T. Unger produces art both for enjoyment, and to be a responsible citizen. The bottle cap fishes he creates are fun. But some of his artwork is useful. He also makes firepits out of recycled metal. And some of his best artistic ideas are not yet realized. He has plans to build an art studio out of recycled freighter crates. In today’s world of green initiatives, it seems to me that many artists are ahead of the rest of the world. Many artists have been using recycled materials in their artwork for many years. Maybe that is because trash is cheap and artists don’t have a lot of money to spend on making artwork. Or maybe that’s because an artist can see “art” in “trash.” I would definitely hang his trash on my walls!