The whimsical band marching in front of an administration building on Grand Valley State University's Allendale, Michigan, campus makes me smile.
I found the story behind its creation and its artist is also a feel-good story of creating beauty and enjoyment from things that others would simply discard.
Stuart Padnos, a senior executive for a scrap metal and recycling firm by vocation and self-taught artist by avocation, is the creative mind behind this multi-figure piece created in 1998.
Stuart's father, Louis Padnos, established the company in 1905. Louis was a "junk man" in the parlance of the day, but the two-person company he started with his wife now employs more than 400 people in approximately 20 locations throughout Michigan. Sons Stuart and Seymour, both in their 80s, still help run the company from its Holland, Michigan, headquarters while a third generation of the family takes the firm into a new century as one of the state's busiest recycling businesses.
Stuart's interest in creating art from scrap metal began about 20 years ago when he showed his wife a strangely shaped piece of pipe he found at work. Barbara Padnos, a watercolorist, encouraged her husband to create something with the unusual piece of metal, and Stuart turned it into a unique flagpole for their home.
Stuart's work includes more than 70 sculptures, many of them gracing public spaces in western Michigan. Padnos does not sell his work, but often donates pieces where the public can enjoy them.
Padnos designs his pieces and, like many sculptors, has helpers fabricate the work for him. Welders at the family firm help create the pieces. Stuart welds his initials into each work of art and encourages those who help him to add their welded initials to the pieces as well.
Workers finish each piece with a colorful coating of high quality enamel paint.
Employees call Stuart when they find promising looking scrap they think he can use, and some of them create their own pieces that the company displays.
It doesn't surprise me to learn that Padnos' marching band, given to GVSU in memory of his wife who studied there, is one of the most popular pieces of public art on a campus that has an impressive number of outdoor sculptures.
Check out my story Public art at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan for more stories and photos of outdoor sculptures on campus.
Some scholars see scrap metal creations a part of increasing interest among artists for creating work using discarded material. Check out Recycled Re-Seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap by Charlene Cerny to see how artists throughout the world create art from salvaged items.
© Dominique King 2010 All rights reserved
Source: Midwest Guest