Meet Cynthia Daniel
In the ruins of a quiet Dallas junkyard, longtime welder and artist Cynthia Daniel carefully scans the ground in search of long-forgotten pieces of metal. She hopes to find tractor springs, grilles, mufflers, fan blades, appliance parts, and other metal tidbits, which she will lug to her backyard welding shop.
With welding torch in hand, she will transform the abandoned pieces of scrap into breathtaking outdoor sculptures that most often take the form of towering plants and animals. Daniel is able to create such works of art because she perceives endless possibilities where most people would only see a heap of unusable trash. “I look at them every day in my yard, and they become something,” Daniel says. With her imaginative eye, Daniel sees “petals on a flower” instead of a rusted fan blade, and “mother-and-son giraffes” in place of a plain hunk of steel.
These awe-inspiring sculptures have garnered Daniel a fair amount of attention from the Dallas art industry. To date, Daniel’s sculptures have made their way into more than 65 art galleries, and they have been admired by a sea of people. Proving that one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, Daniel’s sculptures currently fetch her a pretty penny!
The Beginning of the Junk-to-Art Movement
However, Daniel is not the first person to turn metal “junk” into something of value, nor will she be the last. The movement of reusing scrap metal to make art initially took flight during the 1930s and 40s, when the demand for industrial goods led to an increase in welding professionals. When the advent of War World II brought economic hardships and a dearth of resources, welders and artists were encouraged to locate and refurbish discarded materials.
The Watts Towers in Los Angeles’s Simon Rodia State Historic Park is the most popular and magnificent example of the junk-to-art phenomenon occurring during this time period. The Watts Towers is a stunning collection of 17 skyscraping sculptures made of scrap metal, pottery, and broken glass. This marvel was created by Simon Rodia, who took more than 30 years to build it entirely on his own. It’s not surprising it took him so long to build, considering that the highest tower is over 99 feet tall!
Currently, this artistic practice goes by a number of names, but it’s most commonly referred to as upcycling. Upcycling has gained widespread attention within the last few years due to the growing concern with environmental preservation. Many artists are moving away from buying new materials and are instead opting to reuse materials that are taking up space in junkyards and garbage dumps.
The popularity of upcycling has been fueled by websites like Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram, which encourage artistic individuality and entrepreneurism. Corporations are also taking a bite of the upcycling pie. TerraCycle is one such company, upcycling more than 2.5 billion units of “junk” into a plethora of useful products. Many of these products – such as bike racks, fences, picture frames, outdoor tools, and park benches – are comprised of metal scraps. In today’s market, upcycling is no longer seen as a trend. It has become a $29 billion industry, and it is only expected to grow.
With so much waste in the world today, it’s no wonder why so many welders, artists, and entrepreneurs are looking into their garbage bins for inspiration.