One man’s junk, another man’s treasure

Published 9:45 pm Friday, June 25, 2010

The term “shade tree mechanic” is familiar to most folks who live in the rural South and, probably, to those who live in other rural areas of the country.

However, “shade tree artist” might just be particular to rural Pike County, Alabama.

If there is another artist whose studio moves with the shade cast by the tall oaks in his yard, it has yet to be documented.

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Billy Schofield of the Henderson community is just that, a shade tree artist.

“I work where the shade is,” Schofield said, laughing. “Early morning the shade is on this side of the workshop. Later in the morning, I move over to other side and keep moving with the shade.”

Of course, when the weather turns brisk, Schofield moves his studio inside the large workshop he built himself. And, when the weather turns downright cold, he edges closer to the wood stove over by the far wall.

If the tools of Schofield’s trade were more than tin snips, a drill, a hammer and a can of paint, he wouldn’t have such a mobile studio. But, he needs little more to produce his art that he dubs “tin can art.”

Everything that he uses in his art is recycled material.

“I’ve recycled so much stuff that the government ought to give me a tax break,” Schofield said, laughing. “Most of what I do is flower art that is made from gallon tin cans. The lady over at the nursing home in Luverne saves them for me. That’s keeps the cans out of the garbage dumb so my art is environment friendly.”

“Friendly” just might be the best word to describe Schofield’s tin can art.

“It makes you smile. It’s fun art. Happy art.”

Flowers have that effect on folks, even when the flowers are made of tin and void of the sweet scent that most flowers have in their favor.

“I got the idea of making tin flowers from going to arts and crafts shows,” Schofield said. “I’d see something that I liked and I’d think, ‘I can go home and make that and probably make it just as good …or better.”

But, in that respect, Schofield is different from many others who leave arts and crafts shows with the same “can do” attitude. The difference is that he “can do.” The tin can flowers “blooming” around his home in Henderson are proof of that.

“Those three big flowers over by the fence are gifts to my wife and daughters for Father’s Day,” Schofield said, with a smile of satisfaction at the twist he put on the day for dads. “Yeah. I gave them gifts from me on Father’s Day. Those are the biggest flowers that I have made. They took a little longer than usual”

The “usual” flower, whether it is sunflower, daisy or daffodil, takes a little more than an hour.

“I have to get off the label and clean the can and then cut the tin strips the size that I want,” Schofield said. “I’ve rigged up some spacers that I use for cutting. During the summer, I get some good help from my six-year-old grandson, Jake Hughes. I do the cutting and he hammers the tin down. He’s good at it.”

The sides of the tin cans make the petals and leaves of the flowers and lid of the can is the center of the flower. The stems are made from old hog panels and are strong and sturdy as are the flowers, which can hold their heads up in a pretty stiff breeze.

“The flowers are durable and I can make them any color you want,” Schofield said. “A lady has asked me to make some Auburn and Alabama flowers. The center of the Auburn flower will be blue and the petals, orange. The Alabama flower will be crimson with a white center.”

Schofield said he’ll even make a “house divided” flower so football fans can show their colors in the fall and on through the winter when other flowers have faded.

But Schofield’s art isn’t limited to flowers. He has the “power” to make other yard ornaments.

“I make bird feeders and bird baths from old dishes,” he said. “I drill holes in the glassware and use arrow shafts for poles. Cups and saucers make combination baths and feeders and the bowls are mainly bird baths.”

Schofield usually scopes out garage sales for items for the birds but often people bring their own glassware for him to use.

“Some people want to have garden ornaments that mean something to them,” he said. “I’m always glad to use their items.”

Schofield also makes wind chimes from recycled materials. The lids to cooking pots, silverware, graters, colanders, sifters, just anything that will jingle in the wind.

He grows the gourds that he paints to perk up a garden or lawn or make a home for martins and bluebirds.

“I make some wooden trucks and tractors for kids out of scrap wood,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “The real special ones, I make for my grandkids.”

Jake dropped the hammer – the one with his name on it – and proudly held up a wood toy. “It’s a skidder. It pushes down trees and picks up logs,” he said. “My granddaddy made it for me. We go in the woods and get sticks and make walking sticks, too. We do a lot of things.”

Schofield designs “Welcome” signs for homesteads and will craft cheerful “Keep Out” signs if asked.

“I’ll do whatever people want from recycled items,” he said.

“This kind of art keeps things out of the landfills and also gives new life to old items that would normally be thrown away or put on a shelf and forgotten.”

With Billy Schofield’s creative bent, Grandma’s teacup could be a bath for baby birds. Grandpa’s Prince Albert could be “chiming” away on the back porch and, tin can flowers, nodding in their bed.

Or somebody’s little boy could be hauling stick logs on a skidder much like the one he makes for his own grandson.

What Billy Schofield thought he could do, he tin sure can.