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Broken Sleds and PTSD Therapy: Artists Talk Entries For Flagstaff's Recycled Art Exhibition

Justin Regan

Every piece of art has meaning. But art made from found items takes on a new level of symbolism. The materials themselves can be the inspiration for the artist. This month, Flagstaff is celebrating the 15th annual Recycled Art Exhibition. Here, we profile two artists.  The first is oil painter Rebecca Macintyre. She created a mosaic inspired by mountains of broken sleds and snow play trash left in the forest this winter.   

Rebecca Macintyre:

This is the first year I’ve done the art recycled project. And merely because I found out about the snow play, sled, trash project that interested me. I think it was just an exciting challenge to use the product and make people aware of what’s being left behind in the snow play areas. It’s too bad that the snow play areas become so cluttered with all the materials from the sleds that are broken. Simply being conscious of what you’re leaving behind would be a great help to the Flagstaff community.

The piece that I entered into the recycled art show is a 24 by 36 recycled canvass. I painted it black, and used the broken sled pieces from the snow play areas to create an Iris. And it’s called “Dancing Iris”. I still use the format of flowers which is mostly what I do when I paint oils anyway. So the flower motive I used in that construction. When I cut the pieces and adhered them to the canvas I made sure that the sled side that was all scratched up was on the outside. So that you can tell what kind of pieces they were and also to give it a little variation of color and give a little more depth to the picture.

Credit Justin Regan
Rebecca Macintyre's mosaic is made out of broken sled pieces.

I think the purpose for working with the material is both. Because it’s the snow play material that’s left behind and it brings awareness to the fact that the trash is left there at the snow play areas and people have to be more concerned about what they leave any place that they go. Whether it’s the snow play areas or National parks. But I also think it’s the creative aspect that was really interesting to me. To be able to have an outlet to be creative in a different form than I normally work in.

I would like to see it continue as a project for additional years because I think it’s a good point to make and bring attention to.

Next is a sculpture who is a wanderer. Kenneth Whitaker is a combat veteran. He spends his days walking around Flagstaff to calm his PTSD. His art is also therapy. It’s something one of his doctors prescribed. Whitaker now makes elaborate miniature motorcycles out of used wire. 

Kenneth Whitaker:

Well I spent almost 15 years in the army. I was a desert storm vet. Anyway I did a combat role in desert storm. I was a track commander for an infantry platoon. I came back and my life was turned all upside down. I was never able to go back home again. I’ve been hunting for my home for the last 23- well it’s been 27 years now but three years ago I ended up here in Flagstaff.

I went to veteran services and started a PTSD claim. They sent me to Dr. Larry Stevens. Dr. Stevens was buying some artwork from veterans that had PTSD. And he challenged me to do something. And I said ‘I can make a motorcycle.’ And I was just talking. So he challenged me and I wasn’t going to do anything and then one morning I woke up and went and got some wire and started forming a motorcycle. When I was traveling and chasing construction jobs across the country I was also a rod buster tying steel and so tie wire I knew would hold really good. Tie wire is what I tie it with. As I bend it and twist it and I tie it and just keep going.

The whole main body is just one piece of wire. And then I add the motor separately and detail it with the colored wire. And the people buying the motorcycles would know that I need wire so they would start collecting wire and sending me wire. Even in the mail the colored wire I use I would get boxes of it in the mail from people that had bought one of my motorcycles. Even the students here in the neighborhood. I come home sometimes and the whole balcony would be full of wire from the kids who knew I did this kind of work.

Credit Justin Regan
One of Kenneth Whitaker's copper wire sculptures.

PTSD is like… When you go through combat and you go through battle and people are trying to kill you and you’re killing people you’re shooting and you’re full of rage and anger. So you open a door that really can’t be shut. Instead of cowering into a corner somewhere you get mean and angry and you just gotta kill everything, you gotta destroy everything. So I have to work really hard to manage it. And the motorcycles help me and walking helps me you know? And so it’s just really good therapy, it gives me something to do at least I can make something. I don’t know exactly what it does but it keeps my mind busy and keeps me thinking. Keeps my mind on the right things.

To tell you the truth this is the most rest and the most peace I’ve ever had in my life.       

Both artists are showing their work at Flagstaff’s 15th annual Recycled Art Exhibition which runs through April.

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