It all started with a trip to the annual sculpture show at Broyhill Park in Lenoir a couple of years ago. Broyhill Park is a smallish park up toward the mountainous side of North Carolina and the show is held the Saturday after Labor Day. I’ve been a few times; entry is $35 ahead of time and $45 on the day of the show; you can show any art you can install. There is a wide variety of sculpture, with an average of 100 people exhibiting. Some of the art is very serious and priced appropriately, some is site-specific and installed for the day only. The birdseed doilies around a number of trees fall into the latter category. The were beautiful, and transient, and required better lawn maintenance than I have been able to manage.
One year, a man whose name I never learned created a site-specific installation with ironing boards. He had collected at least 100 old ironing boards, and he had a virtual river of them, skiing down the steep slopes in the park toward the small level area at the bottom. En masse, they really did look like skiers, swooping and turning with the contours of the land. It was fabulous! I wondered how he had accumulated that many ironing boards, and how he stored and transported them, and the image has stayed in my head for several years.
Along the way, I came to appreciate discarded ironing boards myself. They show up at the recycle sheds or the metals recycling bin with some frequency, and they make handy tables for almost any use. Good to use outside, or for messy work, because they don’t cost anything; taller than normal tables and adjustable. A tad unstable but that can be fixed by using two together. Before I knew it, I had five or six around the house. One good one for ironing; one to paint on, several outside for concrete projects; you never know when you’re going to need another ironing board!
All the while, the thought of that river of boards in Lenoir stayed with me. Here on the Coastal Plains side of the state, where the continental shelf actually begins even if we’re currently 200 miles from the ocean, a river of ironing boards wouldn’t look too much different from the parade of dead appliances and untagged vehicals that accumulate behind some mobile homes in the area. Hard to mow around, too, and the dogs don’t need anything else to knock over. But I kept bringing the boards home.
It was a hurricane-prep evening that finally got my attention. One of the big storms was threatening to perhaps blow by, and when the risk is high enough, I’ll do a walk around the yard with bungee cords and tie-down straps and try to anchor as much as possible. As I was lashing yet another bundle of ironing boards together, it occurred to me to count my stash–15. I had 15 ironing boards in and around my house. I had to do something.
To tell the truth, I can’t exactly put my finger on what made the connection between the ironing boards and the idea for the fence. Maybe it was the newly-installed privacy fence (400 yards!!) on the road into town. Maybe it was the wide open view between the back part of my backyard and one of the neighboring churches (there are three…). Or maybe it was just time, and the beautiful pointed shape of the boards. But there it was–a panel fence, made of ironing board boards. Measure the fence section in question–40 feet (at that time, since expanded with the loss of one tree). Measure the ironing boards–on average, 15 inches. Divide. 32. I needed 32 ironing boards. I was almost halfway there!
I got serious. I started buying boards.
For the serious artist using recycled materials, buying raw material can be a bit of a dicey proposition, although we all understand that it is often necessary to buy some supplies. Welding rod is not found in recycling centers, nor are the right size knitting needles. I set a limit–$3–and eased my conscience. I’d buy ironing boards for $3 or less, and my collection grew. I cleaned out Habitat’s stash: you get some strange looks at the cash register when you carry four ironing boards up to the counter. Most of the ladies working at the local Habitat store haven’t ironed in years, anyway.
I also realized I couldn’t keep 32 ironing boards on my front porch, even if this town does not have an ordinance against upholstered furniture in the front yard. (If you’re not from these parts, the finer points of that reference may elude you, and the concept has never been applied to my annual Penguin Party’s yard furnishing, anyway.) About the same time, I had rescued what turned out to be two pup tents from the recycling stream. I thought they were tarps, which are always useful in my trade even if a bit damaged, but when I got them home, they turned into tents which I stashed in the basement until further need. As it turns out, any tent that can sleep people can hold ironing boards, so I set up one of the tents in the backyard and moved my collection inside.
Unfortunately, ironing board legs often have much sharper edges than worn-out pup tents can hold, and during one fiece wind storm, a leg wore a hole in the tent and the tent shredded. Fortunately, I still had the second tent, so I set that up and moved the collection next door.
As of this writing, I have 23 ironing boards. It’s late March, and the grasses and cannas that provide screening during high summer are just starting to think about growing. I have a few more weeks of access to the fence, and if I don’t get the fence built now, it will have to wait until January of next year. It may have to wait. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do about color–use the variety of pastel enamels? Paint the boards all the same color, or a variety of brighter exterior latex colors from my collection? Something else altogether? I also haven’t experimented with attaching the boards to the chainlink. They’ll have to go on the outside, now that we have a hot-wire electric fence on the inside (thank you, Nigel the fence-climbing, radio-collar-resistant Labrador). Will I mix and match board styles? Lattice intersperced with solids, solids with different patterns of piercing? There are some seven or eight board designs in use in the ironing boards that wash up in this part of the country. It would be interesting to see if the mix is the same across the country. I am not offering to do this study.
Sidebar: There is a wider variety of wire coat hanger designs than ironing board styles. You would perhaps not have considered the extensive variety in wire coat hanger sizes and styles unless you too have attempted to collect enough coat hangers to make a complete set of the regular geometric polyhedrons. I need to write about that sometime. Hint, until I do: Make sure to use UV-resistant cable ties if you will display the polyhedra outside.
I will spend the summer on the hunt for another nine ironing boards or so, and think on attachments, and colors, and fence design, and maybe I’ll have enough so that when I’m ready to make art again after the 2007 Chatham Artists Guild Studio Tour, I’ll have a fence. Stay tuned!!
The Collection Grows…
#24: $3 purchase, Chatham PTA, cloth cover, beige; 4/14/2007
#25, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin, no cover, yellow; 4/16/2007
#26, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin, cover, grey rusted lightweight with broken legs; 4/21/2007
#27, $3 purchase, Habitat Re-Use Store #2, old heavy weight light blue with gracefully curving legs and cover; 5/19/2007
#28, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, swap shed; half-size mesh; cover; 5/21/2007
#29, free, Moncure Transfer Station, swap shed; full-size white perforated; flimsy, bent, and punctured to the top where the legs are attached to the ironing surface; no cover; 5/25/2007
#30, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin; full-size white perforated; flimsy, legs won’t fold down; cover; 6/1/2007
#31, free, Moncure Transfer Station, metals recycling bin; dusky blue and seriously rusted and the flat end (how did this happen?) (may decide not to use it but brought it home anyway); flimsy, legs won’t fold down; no cover; 6/3/2007ironing board tent
#32, free, Moncure Transfer Station, bulky bin; appears to work fine; lightweight; cover; 6/10/2007
#33, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, bulky bin; appears to work fine; solid; cover; 6/17/2007
#34, free, Cole Park Transfer Station, bulky bin; found by friends; 6/17/2007
#35, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin; no legs, beige; 9/10/2007
The tent didn’t last; it help up for a few months and even took a patch or two but then the tears got ahead of me. Ironing boards aren’t supposed to camp out.
#36 and 37, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin; one mesh, one nearly solid; 9/23/2007 (and rewarding to see them, having passed on two for $3 each at Habitat recently because I was low on cash and didn’t feel like using my last $5 to buy an ironing board I couldn’t use for a few more months)
#38, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, swap shed; grey perforated; 10/4/2007
#39, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin; green perforated; discarded because the foot broke off one leg; three covers layered on top of each other; 10/7/2007
#40, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, metals recycling bin; blue perforated; 12/4/2007
#41, free, Pittsboro Transfer Station, swap shed, beige with cover; 5/24/2008
Building the fence
March 15, 2008
We should have taken a picture of the tent before it went to the dump yesterday, but it was pretty sad. Completely shredded; no weather protection at all but at least the tent poles helped to hold the boards in a pile. It’s time for the next step in this adventure; the grasses along the fence line need to be cut soon because the new growth is about to start up. John spent the morning taking the legs off the board collection. I had thought about using the legs as vertical accents, but they were ratty, with lots of sharp edges, and we decided it was better to get rid of them.
We loaded up the truck with the legs from 40 ironing boards and hauled them to the Pittsboro transfer station, where we ran into someone working his way through the metals recycling bin looking for scrap that he could sell. His face was treat enough; sure would like to see the guys at the scrap yard when he pulls up with the legs from 40 ironing boards and tries to explain how they all came to be in one place at the same time!
I had hoped to be able to make a “natural” fence, using the colors of the boards themselves, but that’s not going to happen. We have a few blue and gray and green, and one each yellow and red, but most of the boards are a pretty boring beige, and that’s not the look I want along that fence line. Someone asked if I was going to build the fence “face in” or “face out,” and I think I’m going to try for one that’s the same on both sides, if the panels will cooperate. John had the idea of painting the panels with Hammerite paint, perhaps black or pewter; I’m now thinking that it might be attractive (?!?) to paint the top one color and the underside another, so that you’d see both colors from either side of the fence. Off to Lowe’s Hardware–they were closed by the time we decided on this course of action last night.