One of the more interesting things I look for on roadtrips as I pass through small communities on back roads is yard art. Funky art and decorations in people’s yards, on their fences, on their houses. People have ingenuity. Some people have junk. But, as the saying goes, “One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Treasure.”
For me, Yard Art is anything unique and unusual. It could be chain saw art – wood carvings made with chain saws. It could be art made from scrap metal. It could be, like the photo above, a hodge podge of signs, junk or other things. Following are some selections of yard art I have taken over the years. Don’t judge…some of these people love their “collections.” I just love my collection of photos of theirs… Enjoy the virtual ride.
There is a difference between quirky and offbeat in my mind. Quirky is typically off the chain and unexpected, or even downright weird. On the other hand, as noted in my O is for Offbeat post, the offbeat and odd things are typically recognizable.
Obviously, there is a fine line between what is quirky and what is offbeat. I think we all make those determinations ourselves. In this post, I will offer up a few Quirky things…those that I think are beyond offbeat and into the realm of quirky.
I’ll start off with a biggie…a giant obelisk made completely of bicycle parts. Why quirky? Because who would ever think of making a 65 foot tall statue totally out of bicycle parts?
The artwork, entitled “Cyclisk” was created in 2010 by Petaluma, California-based artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector and weighs about 10,000 pounds. It is made from roughly 340 recycled bicycles collected from local nonprofit community bike projects. It took nearly four months of welding to manufacture.
In fact, there are many “quirky” scrap metal art projects to be seen around this country. Some are small and others, like Cyclisk, are huge.
One such example at Melody Muffler in Walla Walla, WA. Owner Mike Hammond is a muffler repairman, a musician and a metal artist. I visited his shop back in 2007.
I first met Mark at a Trailer Park Troubadours concert the night before in Dayton, WA. After talking with him, we headed south to Walla Walla to check out his quirky art. What a load of fun that was!
Since then, over the past 10 years, I have run into other quirky metal art in diverse places. You never know what you’ll see on the back roads of America!
I could likely post a hundred more pieces of scrap metal art found around the country, but there are other quirky places to cover.
Perhaps one of the most unusual and quirky places I have ever been to is the Screaming Heads of Midlothian Castle in Burk’s Falls, Ontario, not too far from Algonquin National Park. This entire project was begun by school teacher and artist Peter Camani. He is a Secondary School teacher, but has also spent over 25 years constructing Monolith-like sculptures in the shape of giant heads, which are scattered throughout the property. A two-headed dragon sits atop the chimney of his Midlothian Castle and he has a version of the See/Say/Hear No Evils greet visitors.
There are more than 100 “screaming head” sculptures, each one at least 20 feet in height. According to Wikipedia, Camani says he “built his otherworldly creations as a warning about environmental degradation. With his paintings already hanging in such coveted places as the Vatican and Buckingham Palace, he decided to focus his energy on realizing a vision of significantly larger proportions.” See my original post HERE.
Of course, there are also quirky sculptures to be found all over the place, just like the metal ones. Here are a couple more I have come across.
Quirky is not only centered on art. There are many quirky places. I came across Boudreau’s Antiques on US Highway 2 near Odanah, WI that was covered with “stuff.” That alone was a drawing card for me to drop by…but alas, it was closed.
And they don’t have to be antique shops either. How about the quirkiest of all eateries in the US… Hillbilly Hot Dog in West Virginia?
And another of the quirky treasures of this country is the Hamtramck Disneyland in Hamtramck, MI, near Detroit
Along these same lines of quirkiness is a family yard in Woodstock, Ontario.
Then there are places that defy description. One such uber-quirky place is Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN.
One man’s life dedication to his parents draws people from all around to see this unique and absolutely quirky massive structure made of steel pipes and steel pieces and a large painted water tower that says “Mindfield Cemetery.” This large piece of art work is the work of one Billy Tripp, who, in 1989 began creating this monument to his parents.
This place must have taken 1000s of hours to build and it is an absolute maze of metal. I was fascinated.
And another place, in Meadville, PA has hundreds of pieces of art created from old repurposed roadsigns.
Signs & Flowers is a garden of 12 large flowers made of recycled road signs and landscaping at the PennDOT storage lot in Meadville. In the spring and summer of 2001, Allegheny College art students, under the direction of art professor Amara Geffen, designed and planted the “garden,” which has quickly become a popular attraction for local residents and tourists. In the summer of 2002 Geffen’s students continued the project by constructing a 200-foot sculptural fence Read Between the Signs on the PennDOT property along Hwy 322
I am assuming by now that you, the reader, has determined that there are some really over the top quirky places out there. Though Hillbilly Hot Dog takes the place for quirky eateries, a couple of burger joints in Washington and Texas take a close second and third.
The outside of Fat Smitty’s is quirky enough. But go inside and there are many more surprises….1000s of them hanging all over the place.
And in Cypress, TX there is the Shack Burger Resort, another over the top hall of quirky eating.
Head to Cincinnati for the quirkiest grocery store experience you may ever get. Jungle Jim’s is more than a grocery store, it’s a destination! There is over 200,000 square feet of shopping and 10s of 1000s of product choices from all over the world…. and the most unique restroom entrance in any store.
I guess I need to add the quirkiest 30 mile drive in the United States as the last piece. That would be the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota. Some humongously quirky pieces of art along a 30 mile stretch of road north of Regent, ND.
This is one of my all time favorite tourist destinations. Took me many years to finally get there, but I am glad I did. I have a great detailed post about this on my blog if you are interested. See it here.
By the way, Geese in Flight has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records. This piece was erected in 2001 and weighs over 78 tons. The main structure is 154 feet wide and 110 feet tall. The largest goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. On a clear day this structure can be seen from nearly 5 miles away!
So much quirk and so little time and space. Time to take a breather and enjoy the ride…through quirkville.
(Note: I was working at the Toyota Plant in Woodstock, Ontario as a Japanese interpreter at the time I wrote this post in 2008)
March 26, 2008: It was a beautiful day and I got off work at 4:00 and decided to head out on a small road trip around the region. A couple of days ago I met with Cathy Bingham, Director of the Oxford County, Ontario Tourism Office in Woodstock. She had contacted me about my Jakeman’s Syrup page and wanted to meet with me to give me more ideas. We had a wonderful visit and she gave me some unique ideas, told me about the history of the area and focused me in on some different places to see, both in Oxford County as well as the surrounding counties. One of the DEFINITE MUST VISITS was to see the Tundra Swans near Aylmer, Ontario. So, I decided to do that along with a couple of other side trips. Following is an overview map of the route I took…about 78 miles all together.
The first place I visited was just outside of Woodstock. I left Toyota and headed down Highway 2 (Dundas St.) into town all the way to the Highway 59 turnoff heading north (Vansitart Rd.). I crossed over the Thames River and up a couple of hills to see another place that Cathy had recommended to me, based on my yard art interests. This particular place is the home of Cliff Bruce and his wife. Cliff Bruce has an eclectic collection of Windmills, whirly-gigs and other oddities scattered throughout his yard. Following are just a few shots of the place:
He calls it Windmill Hill. There is a gate that keeps visitors out and the dogs in, but the sign in the driveway says to “Push the Button” to open the gate. I did that, but the gate did not open. Since I did not know if today was the two double shot gun day, I decided to just walk around the outside and get a few shots of his yard decorum.
The first thing I noticed from the driveway was the working walk/don’t walk lights and the railroad crossing lights…which came complete with the bell ringing. I wondered if the neighbors got tired of hearing the railroad bell go off every two minutes…for yes, there are neighbors.
Then came the front yard. He not only has windmills, but lots of unusual statues, etc. Fun fun fun.
From there I had to trudge through the foot deep snow around the south side of his house. I was walking through some kind of field. As I walked along the fence, the Bruce’s dogs paid me a visit (from the other side of the fence). But I kept shooting away. So many things…in so little space.
One could really spend a couple of hours looking around this place. So many little things everywhere.
Cliff seems to have a fascination with flying things and moving things. He had a few small amusement airplanes and helicopters in the yard, like Fred Flintstone (above) and the plane and helicopter below.
The menagerie in his yard goes on and on.
From Windmill Hill I headed back into Woodstock and then on to the 401 freeway to head west towards London. I got off at exit 203 to head south on Highway 73 (Elgin Rd.) towards Aylmer, Ontario (which the locals pronounce as “Elmer,” so I was initially confused in trying to find the place). Along the way I went through the small village of Harrietsville. I was surprised to run across more yard art…in fact, a place that fabricates yard art out of sheet metal and scrap metal. I just had to stop!!
On my stop at TCM I met an older man who said that he was one of four who owned and worked the place. He makes the items with the stones while others do some of the metal work. He told me about how he had a heart attack and the doctor said he could only be saved if he stopped smoking. I asked if I could get his photo, but he declined. Nonetheless, he was quite the talker.
i got a kick out of the guitar playing metallic dragon below:
Time was flying and the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky, so I shuffled off to Aylmer to go see the swans…the main goal of this little excursion. In speaking to Cathy, she told me that from her experience, the best time to see the swans is in the afternoon as they are the most active. So, I took her word for it and hoped that my afternoon visit would pay off.
I drove down 73 until I got to Glencolin Line and at that corner was a nice blue sign with a swan on it and an arrow pointing left. I followed Glencolin about 5 km to Hacienda Dr., where there was another sign pointing to the left. Just shortly up the road was another sign pointing to the right. This was the place – the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area:
A small jaunt down the road led to some viewing stands. One was open and a couple more were enclosed with open windows. As I got out of the car I could hear an assortment of honks, hums, whistles and various other noises emanating from the small pond (named Tundra Pond) where there were literally thousands of Tundra Swans (in fact, there is a group of volunteers that feeds them and counts them daily — today’s count was 4268). In fact, the Aylmer Museum sponsors a Tundra Swan Line which allows people to call in and get a daily migration report and count of the visiting swans. I had never seen more than one or two swans at a time, so this pretty amazing to me to see thousands of them. And mingled in with them were a number of Canadian Geese.
I learned that the swans are in different groups. Since they mate for life, the “married couples” are in one place, the singles are in another and then the young ‘uns are just out playing in the water. Watching them fly was also cool as these birds are so graceful and their huge size really adds emphasis. It was really an amazing visit!!
My return trip took me through the booming town of Aylmer. I went through Aylmer and then ventured back along the back roads of Elgin County, Norfolk County and Oxford County, before returning to Brant County and Paris. Along the road I encountered Mennonites in their horse-drawn buggies. Aylmer actually has a Mennonite Furniture Store. I think the photos speak for themselves. All told, it was a wonderfully adventurous afternoon and a beautiful one at that with partly cloudy skies and 45 degree temperatures.
The back roads of southern Ontario always offer some wonderful scenes. So glad to have visited in 2008 and to be able to look back at these great memories.