Photo by Kim Ashford
Motorcycles are a favorite creation. When not in his studio, Gale rides as a member of the im at firstname.lastname@example.org Patriot Guard—a motorcycle club whose riders attend the funerals of fallen armed forces members.
In the right hands, spare parts get an “udderly” new life
Sid Gale collects junk the way a jeweler collects gemstones. It is these discarded objects that build his artist’s pallet. Repurposed and assembled together, this supposed waste is given a significantly more glamorous second chance. “I can look through a pile and think, ‘This is a nose. A head,’” he says. Objects quite vividly transform right in front of Gale the way marble most assuredly came alive for Michelangelo. A sparkplug pulled from his mechanic’s junk barrel makes up the body of a crawfish. A hot and cold faucet duo becomes a cow’s udders. A helicopter made of antique spoon wings and butter knife rotors was Gale’s first piece—fitting for a man who served twenty-six years as a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps.
Gale hasn’t always crafted his work from spare parts. In a previous iteration of his life as an artist he made brass and copper jewelry, working the craft circuit for fifteen years. “I was tired of making earrings,” he says bluntly, and found inspiration from an arts booth at Jazz Fest some sixteen years ago that featured its own version of upcycled art. That first helicopter was followed by a motorcycle—another inevitable design. On the side, Gale is a member of the Patriot Guard—a motorcycle club whose riders frequent the funerals of fallen armed forces members. From there, some three-hundred sickle blade and garden shovel birds were born—each one given a proper name and an accompanying birth certificate. The birds, like all of Gale’s creations, begin as a welded amalgamation of sturdy and rustic parts, given personality and color from Judy, Gale’s wife. A former florist, Judy has a keen eye for design and often helps Gale arrange the pieces and paints the final product. With Judy’s paint, one bird may emerge a spunky hot pink flamingo, while another is born a sleek blackbird. Paint and other detail can be just what a piece needs to amp up its hard edge or to soften its character.
On a sunny fall morning at the Red Stick Arts Market, Gale stood behind a display of his work. One of his newest pieces sat proudly on the ground to the right of him: a life-like banjo and accompanying stand. Gale doesn’t worry about the time it takes to get a piece right. It took him nearly a month to decide how to give the strings the slightest bit of flexibility. Often, he’ll spend as much time figuring out how to make the piece as he does actually constructing it. Gale’s inventory of creations is quite extensive and he’ll often create pieces upon request. A dachshund, for example, was commissioned by a woman who insisted Gale also include the dog’s bowl. This varied collection is made possible by his robust junk stash and a couple lucky scores. Beautifully delicate bird feeders, for instance, were made from pieces of copper gutter that were removed from a home in Clinton, Louisiana. The homeowner, who was replacing rotten wood behind the gutters, graciously sent the copper Gale’s way, knowing that it’d be put to good use. An antique merchant in Denham Springs saves her supply of ornate spoons for Gale, which he typically uses to make the body and tale of his fireflies.
Gale notices that children have an acute ability to see the raw parts that make up the object almost immediately. While an adult may fixate on the piece as a whole, sometimes careless to notice the individual parts, a child will immediately say, “Look! A spoon!” and find pleasure in identifying each small component. Gale’s relationship with scrap parts is similar to a poet’s relationship with words. When handled with thoughtful precision, a seemingly ordinary jumble of words can be ordered in such a way that brings an artful cadence. In the same way, Gale’s material is retooled and repackaged, making new meaning out of the familiar.
“It’s just an evolution,” Gale says of his process. No two pieces are ever an exact match. “That’s the thing about recycled art,” Gale says. “The parts don’t just fit.” The detail comes over time and with the help of Judy’s eye. The two make a logical pair, mixing mechanics and design to create art. The sum of Gale’s junk parts make a whole: a brilliant sunflower, an alligator, a delicate firefly. “Your imagination is the only limitation,” he says.
Sid Gale’s creatures are on hand each month at the Baton Rouge Arts Market, at 5th and Main Streets in downtown Baton Rouge. You can also reach him at email@example.com