Hidden Repository of Curious Craft

I went on an Atlas Obscu­ra excur­sion to MorY­ork, a warehouse/gallery/studio in High­land Park focus­ing on recy­cled art.

MorYork - Studio of Recycled Art

San­di was the offi­cial Field agent, but Erin was there, and our host was Clare Gra­ham. Once upon a time, Clare was the head of the Enter­tain­ment Art Depart­ment at Dis­ney­land. Now he is “retired” and can focus on his pas­sion, recy­cled art. He reli­gious­ly scours all the flea mar­kets, swap meets, and garage sales in SoCal to get mate­ri­als such as but­tons, bot­tle­caps, and Scrab­ble tiles to build sculp­tures and furniture.

He told us about how it all start­ed. He was the youngest of many, and had lit­tle to call his own. His most prized child­hood pos­ses­sion was a roller desk where he could safe­ly keep any odd­i­ties that he found and tin­ker with them. Skip for­ward a few years, and Clare spent “too long” in school, get­ting every art degree known to man. He said that a big part of the rea­son he was in school for so long was access — to ideas, but also mate­ri­als and work­spaces. While work­ing at Dis­ney, he would still tin­ker with found art, but only in the very lit­tle free time he had.

Now that he is retired, he enjoys being able to do only what he wants, at any time he wants. (Which is why he does not do com­mis­sioned work.) He has much more time to go find odd­i­ties, and now his roller desk is a whole build­ing. The space is very inter­est­ing, it was a gro­cery store and a roller rink pre­vi­ous­ly. It has wood floors and a nice high ceil­ing giv­ing Clare lots of space to store his mate­ri­als, com­plet­ed pieces, and dis­play cas­es of items he found and kept as-is.

I must have tak­en a pic­ture of every sur­face in the build­ing. I walked three laps of the place and found some­thing new and inter­est­ing in every cor­ner each time. San­di told me she would like to hold a scav­enger hunt event here because there is so much to look at. Here are some of the recy­cled art pieces that stood out to me:

MorYork - Pop-tab couch

One of the first things you notice when you walk in, this is a couch made from pop-tabs from alu­minum cans. Clare also made a side table and a chair in the same style. The basic frame is made with rebar, then he laid chick­en wire over it. The final look is accom­plished by string­ing the pop-tabs on wire and wrap­ping the wire around the chick­en wire until it is packed solid.

MorYork - Mirror

This is a 60″ con­cave mir­ror made by Bausch & Lomb for the US Army dur­ing the Viet­nam War. There was a set of three made, and they were mount­ed on vehi­cles dri­ven out into the jun­gle and point­ed into the sky. Record­ing the light in the night sky off the mir­rors allowed the Army to tri­an­gu­late the flight paths of North Viet­namese bombers back to their hid­den airstrips. When Clare got it, he cus­tom designed the mount you see in the pic­ture so it can be cranked along two axes into any ori­en­ta­tion. It is hard to see from this angle, but there is an arm extend from the base to the front cen­ter of the mir­ror where a crys­tal ball is mounted.

MorYork - Bear tower

These two sculp­tures in the fore­ground con­sist of orbs made of stuffed ani­mals tight­ly wrapped by plas­tic wrap and then held togeth­er by twine netting.

MorYork - Teeth cabinet

MorYork - Teeth cabinet inside

Per­haps the odd­est of all, this is a cab­i­net lined with human teeth. Inside are var­i­ous arti­facts of health and fer­til­i­ty. Clare’s sto­ry about get­ting the teeth was very weird. In Amer­i­ca, extract­ed teeth are con­sid­ered human waste and dis­pos­al by den­tists is mon­i­tored. Amer­i­can cre­ma­to­ries burn too hot and bones and teeth are destroyed, but even if they were not, they would still be human remains and mon­i­tored. In India, cre­ma­to­ries do not burn as hot and the teeth remain. How­ev­er, import­ing human remains is again tight­ly con­trolled. So there are busi­ness­es that take human bones and teeth and make “art” with them. The art pieces can be import­ed freely. When you receive your art, there is a small instruc­tion card telling you to break up the piece and boil it in water, which melts the oth­er art sup­plies away from the bones and teeth.

Good to know, in case I want to fake my own death or something!

If you get a chance, you should take a look at this place. I have bare­ly scratched the sur­face of all the weird and won­der­ful recy­cled art Clare has on dis­play. Walk-ins are wel­come when­ev­er the front door is open, and they have reg­u­lar neigh­bor­hood events such as live music.

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