Beatrice Wyatt’s front yard is a traffic-stopper.
People even get out of their cars to stare at the bizarre collection of, well . . . stuff, that overflows the Ventura yard--everything from discarded plastic cups to a giant blue, inflated crayon hanging from a magnolia tree.
Equally extraordinary is its creator, a wiry 87-year-old widow who scours trash bins for discarded treasures to add to her collection.
“Anything pretty to my eye, I get it,” said Wyatt, holding up a blue plastic jug that once held mineral water. “People throw away such pretty things.”
Wyatt’s yard, at 223 Olive St., is a patch of bright color in an unlikely spot. Railroad tracks run in front of her little brick house, which is nearly tucked under the Ventura Freeway at the west end of town. Except for the house that she owns next door, her only neighbors are factories, warehouses and a road maintenance shop.
She and her husband built their house long before construction of the freeway wiped out a cluster of other houses. When her husband died several years ago, she began to decorate her yard.
“My mind went to drifting and I was sitting around crying and worrying,” she said. To keep busy and fight the loneliness, she started painting round, smooth rocks she found at the beach. Using bright shades of red, white and blue, she would paint them one color or speckle them. With great care, she stacked them along the front of the yard.
“Nobody taught me nothing,” she said. “It all came from God--and that’s the truth from here to heaven.”
A faithful parishioner at Olivet Baptist Church, she sprinkles her lively conversation with quotes from the Bible and exclamations of her faith in God. She seldom sits still.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” she said. “If I sit around just thinking, the devil will catch hold of me and I’d be the worst rascal,” she said, laughing.
At some point--she’s not sure when--she expanded her collection beyond rocks. Soon her yard was home to a snow ski, a spice rack, plastic beverage containers, makeup cases, broken toys, an ice cream cone box, a children’s wading pool and hundreds of other things.
Wyatt couldn’t resist painting some of those objects too. A Christmas wreath painted blue with white speckles hangs from a tree. Nearby is a football helmet that received similar treatment. She painted the trunk of her orange tree yellow.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get started, it just comes to me,” she said. “Some people might say it’s junk, but it’s art,” she insists, calling herself a designer. “I don’t care if it doesn’t look pretty to anyone else.”
If it’s junk, no one seems to mind--least of all her next-door neighbors, Gene and Marija Endrijonas, owners of Shutters Etc., a window shutter factory and showroom.
“I love it,” said Gene Endrijonas, who calls it folk art. Wyatt’s collection has spread slightly beyond her yard and Endrijonas now has a view of it from his office.
The Endrijonases have even given Wyatt discarded shutters for her yard, and once when she was having dizzy spells, they gave her masks to prevent her from inhaling paint fumes.
“She’s the most wonderful, good-hearted, genuine, loving person,” Marija Endrijonas said. “America is full of old auto parts, and she can take a used air filter and decorate it.”
That’s not all she can do. Inside her house Wyatt hunched over the piano and accompanied herself in a spirited rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” She used to sing in the church choir.
The beds in two bedrooms are covered with some 35 hats she has sewn. Her house is cluttered with more treasures awaiting a spot in the yard, yet the house is spotless.
In fact, Wyatt is so meticulous that she has laid out paths through her mounds of doodads in the yard and covered them with carpet squares. Each day she sweeps leaves from the paths and dusts her treasures. Even her driveway and garage are covered with carpet pieces.
In fact, most of the time she can be found painting or tinkering in the yard. People stop and she chats with them about this or that trinket.
“People love my yard,” she said, daubing bright blue speckles on a rock. “This is my special color. See this,” she asked, holding up a highway cone speckled with red and white paint. “This used to be the ugliest thing you ever saw.”
She had to slow down a few weeks ago when she dropped a rock on her big toe. Despite pain and swelling, she refused to see a doctor, instead trusting her religious faith.
“I just cling to the Lord,” she said, holding up her healed foot. Then she laughed and kind of danced a step or two. “I feel like I’m 16.”