Found: Offbeat Artists Embellish, Recycle, Delight

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Crozet Artist Diana Hale at Crozet Library. Photo: Sanjay Suchak.

With humor and whimsy, serious artistry and an eye for eccentric juxtaposition, a couple of local artists create distinctive work from unexpected origins. 

Waynesboro’s Bruce Fortier is the inventor of “Pop’s Bots,” a collection of knobby creatures, large and small, that he cobbles together from everyday objects, both nostalgic and modern, their approximate shape or size determining their use as body parts. Most of his bots have names, from the bits and scraps whose purpose or brand name give “Pop” ideas for the overall personality of the finished piece. There’s “Miss Conduct,” so named because her torso is an old tobacco can. She also has heart-shaped earrings for eyes, a short little skirt made from a fluted tart mold, and a flirtatious bow (a child’s game piece) pinned to her golf ball head. 

Bruce Fortier with two of his larger bots. Photo: Theresa Curry.

There’s a primmer feminine sculpture with a heart-shaped cookie cutter clutched in hands fashioned from the business ends of wrenches, titled “Looking for a good man.” Spoons become legs and feet, an old shaving brush becomes a head with a mohawk, and any number of dominos, thimbles, watch faces and shot glasses substitute for faces, feet and legs. 

For the show at the Artisans Depot in August, Fortier fashioned a sign spelling out “Crozet” entirely with wrenches, vices and fan blades.

Miss Conduct and Miss L. by Bruce Fortier. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Like many artists, Fortier has a quirky vision that sees beyond the isolated parts to the finished product. He had some advantages, he admits: “I restored old cars, so I had every tool you could imagine.” He’d spy a vintage part or an old garden tool in his Vermont home workshop, and plot how to assemble them into a creature that not even a mad scientist could imagine. 

“Part of my incentive was my wife’s big garden,” he said. Concrete and stone garden art seemed boring in comparison to the images in his mind: life-size musicians playing real instruments with pitchfork hair and metal tank torsos. When the couple retired to Waynesboro to be near family, they scaled down and so did the bots. His newer, smaller creations have also appealed to critics and consumers, and he’s won awards at major festivals and shows.

Looking For A Good Man from Pops Bots. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Pops Bots can be found at Crozet Artisans Depot, with more on his Facebook page. He’ll be at the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival Art show in October.

At the Crozet Library, you’ll currently find “The Mail Art Experiment,” curated by Crozet’s Diana Hale. It’s hard to define mail art, Hale said. It includes collaboration between artists facilitated by the United States Post Office as well as incorporating the art added by the post office in the form of stamps, decorated envelopes, quirky adornments and odd labels, even preposterous addresses. “The International Union of Mail-Artists,” whose members regularly invite each other to add to interesting physical documents that provide a base for imaginative embellishment, has no rules, and anyone can join.

Mail Art Experiment No. 26 by Diana Hale

Hale first saw the possibilities when she came across a stack of old Virginia postcards of Philpott Lake in Franklin County. No matter how scenic the lake may be in real life, the postcards presented it as a place of dubious charm. She invited the artists to add to the gloomy scene and mailed a postcard to each who accepted, ending up with a pile of wonderfully quirky images of old-world figures, fifties-era housewives and fantastical animals, all added and mailed back to her.

Embellished Experiments From Diana Hale’s Mail Art Experiment. Photo courtesy Diana Hale.

A couple of years later, Hale found a folder of science experiments at an estate sale. “The handwriting was lovely, old-fashioned and beautiful,” she said. She put out a call to the mail artists, and asked them to embellish the page—this time, each one was a different experiment—in any way that came to them. They didn’t disappoint her.  

Each in their own way found something on the written page that inspired them. A few took the name of the experiment to suggest a drawing; some found a shape in the diagrams; others found images that referred to the subject matter. Still others transposed words and images that were meant to counter the dry equations with comic, ironic or magical forms. Pen, pencil, ink and paint aren’t  the only media: there’s embroidery, burning and lace-making applied to the experiments as well. Hale also includes the envelopes exchanged in the experiment as part of the exhibit.

The Mail Art Experiment will be at the Crozet Library through October 2. You can find Hale’s Philpott Lake project philpott lakeproject.tumblr.com/  

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