Toss and turn: Rubbish rescue

Associated Press

Other artists might take offense if someone described their work as derivative junk and their studio as a real dump. Not Nome Edonna, the newest artist in residence at the place where San Francisco’s garbage goes.

Edonna, a painter and fan of vintage collectibles, couldn’t be more inspired as he picks through a pile of rubbish that a pickup truck just added to the heap in a salvage sorting warehouse.

Wearing gloves and work boots, he inspects what appear to be the vestiges of an old woman’s estate -- letters written in Spanish, crystal sherbet dishes wrapped in newspaper, used jars of cold cream -- and adds a tattered pink lampshade to his metal shopping cart.

“If you like digging through stuff, it’s like a dream come true,” said Edonna, 33, who is thinking about making a hand-built phonograph and a skull sculpture out of forsaken computer monitors during his four-month stint turning trash to treasure. “I can’t think of another residency I’d rather have.”


Although the idea of turning discarded objects into “found” art is not new, San Francisco may be the only city where artists are paid to create masterpieces from the raw material of people’s lives. For 16 years, the private company that runs the city’s recycling program has provided Bay Area artists with a $1,900 monthly stipend, a fully equipped work space and an end-of-term public art exhibit, along with access to a first-class assortment of castoffs.

The purpose of the program is to reduce waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill by showing how it can be creatively reused, said Paul Fresina, who runs the artist-in-residence program for Norcal Waste Systems.

“I want the message to be, ‘Go try this at home,’ ” Fresina said.

About 60 artists apply for the program each year, and between four and eight are selected. Most who have participated work in the visual arts, although a handful of writers and musicians have been chosen.


Besides pledging to work at the dump for a certain number of hours per week, artists in the program are required to donate three finished pieces to the dump.

The work ends up decorating Norcal Waste System’s offices, in a gallery that school groups visit during tours of the garbage facility, or in a sculpture garden.

“A lot of people are instantly baffled by the idea of digging through trash, but once I tell them the things I found, they think it’s pretty cool,” said Sudhu Tewari, another artist picked for this term’s residency.

Tewari, 29, makes kinetic sculptures and musical instruments, so he needs a lot of scrap metal and moving parts for his projects. While combing the mound one recent morning, though, he bypassed a rusty stationary bicycle with all its parts in hopes of finding a newer model. He sees two or three other such remnants of failed New Year’s resolutions get dropped off every day.


Although much of the art that gets made at the dump has an industrial feel to it, Kim Weller decided to take her work to another level earlier this year. Weller scavenged thin sheets of wood from abandoned doors and shipping crates, sanded, repaired and painted them in Day-Glo colors that mirrored the safety vests dump workers wear. The result was a 3-D re-creation of a day-at-the-beach scene from the cover of an Archie comic book.