Creating Treasure from Trash: Eco-Art in Wayland

Dan Balter and Peter Vazquez have found the Wayland Transfer Station to be an "exceptional" place for picking up art supplies.

Of course you’ve heard that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But what if one man’s trash could be another man’s artistic creation, which could then be a decorative treasure in your home?

It’s happening right in Wayland, and if Dan Balter and Peter Vazquez get their way, the items you take to the Wayland Transfer Station just might reappear in your home as repurposed and re-imagined pieces of art.

Balter, a Wayland resident, and Vazquez, of Randolph, are committed to exploring the ways that “trash” – everything from construction scraps to teabags to paper grocery sacks – can be used to create high-quality artwork that could be featured proudly in any home or business.

Balter and Vazquez are the artistic hands and minds behind Fireseed, a newly formed organization with the goal of connecting eco-artists with materials and communities with opportunities to appreciate the beauty in art made from their discarded or repurposed “trash.”

“It’s [eco-art] about finding different ways to make art,” Balter said. “But one of the overarching concepts is to help people understand their consumption. It’s about the statement and the materials.”

Vazquez, a musician by profession, and Balter, a software engineer, have known each other for awhile, but it was years into their acquaintance that they stumbled upon a mutual interest in creating art and using found and repurposed materials to do it.

Balter’s Wayland backyard is a gallery of sorts for the type of repurposing they pursue and advocate. A coop constructed from scrap fencing holds a few Guinea hens, natural predators of ticks, Balter explained. Also in the yard stands a sculptural bridge that Vazquez built from that same scrap fencing, branches found in the woods surrounding the home, construction scrap materials and an invasive vine growing nearby.

Perhaps most impressive is the one-time swimming pool that Balter grew tired of maintaining when his boys barely used it. Today, the pool is a naturally filtered pond full of water plants and koi.

But their art goes beyond the useful and becomes, very often, the simply beautiful made all the more extraordinary by the materials of which it is comprised.

Balter’s passion is painting and printmaking, and he’s found that paper Whole Foods grocery sacks and giant IKEA cardboard boxes provide excellent canvases.

“I like the way the paper and cardboard absorb the paint,” Balter said.

Vazquez is more of a sculptor or carpenter. Several of his projects are light boxes – generally lit with eco-friendly LED lights, of course – constructed from found picture or architectural frames, cabinet doors or anything else he can mold into a box. From there he creates walls for the box using everything from teabags to plastic bags.

He’s also working on building a guitar from a discarded maple countertop.

“We want people to know what happens to their garbage,” Vazquez said. “Instead of a dead-end cycle, we want to give it [garbage] a new life. We’re looking for ways to open up the end of that cycle.”

Fireseed’s mission is to connect artists with materials and communities with the art, Balter explained. So far that has taken the shape of displaying the work in non-traditional galleries, such as the walls at Howling Wolf Taqueria in Salem, or joining with larger organizations to showcase the art, as Fireseed will do Aug. 18-20 as a special part of the Boston Green Fest at Boston City Hall Plaza.

They are also working with Wayland’s Board of Selectmen to formalize an eco-art program utilizing the materials discarded at the Wayland Transfer Station.

At the July 11 Board of Selectmen meeting, Vazquez and Balter presented the board with a proposal to create an “Eco-Art Lab” at the Wayland Transfer Station that, among other things, would help reduce waste, “encourage people to understand and accept their role in the consumption-to-waste cycle,” and create “a bridge between local artists and community members.”

“We find the transfer station to be really an exceptional place,” Balter told selectmen. Balter and Vazquez said later that they visit the transfer station about once a week to glean supplies. 

Ultimately, they would like to develop an artist-in-residence program at the Wayland Transfer Station, the proposal explains. It would “bring together local artists and volunteers in a multidiscipline and multicultural exploration of consumption.”

The art created from transfer station items could be displayed on-location as well as at participating businesses around town.

“We want to see it become a movement,” Vazquez said later. “We want to see big corporations putting up eco-art in their buildings.”

Since the initial meeting with selectmen, Balter said the proposal seems to be moving forward. They are hoping to start the Wayland Transfer Station program in September.

“Artists anywhere, in any culture, use the materials that are around,” Balter said. “We are an industrial culture. We aren’t condemning that. We’re dealing with what we have to work with.”

For more information about Fireseed or their display at the Boston Green Fest, check out the Fireseed page on Facebook.

Barbara Ryan August 14, 2011 at 03:18 PM
This is a wonderful idea and as the art teacher of Wayland Middle School I hope to meet Dan and Peter to brainstorm ways of bringing to our school and using these wonderful recycled materials in our art projects. I welcome all ideas and volunteers! Barbara_Ryan@wayland.k12.ma.us


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