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April 07, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

From a trash can to public art From a trash can to public art (April 07, 2004)

By Rebecca Wallace
Almanac Staff Writer

Some people choose to love public art, while others have it thrust upon them by a law.

Still others walk by a concrete trash can and get inspired to take it home. Well, at least Susan Ringler does.

Ms. Ringler, a resident of the Willows neighborhood of Menlo Park, is a technical writer in her day job but an artist at heart, creating mosaics out of broken crockery in her home to decorate everything from flower pots to patio tables to a mailbox.

Last year, when she spotted a heavy and rather utilitarian-looking concrete trash can that had recently been installed by the city on Oak Court, she saw a new canvas. So she approached fellow Willows resident Kelly Fergusson, who puts out a neighborhood newsletter.

"I said, 'If you announce in the newsletter for people to give me their broken dishes, I'll donate my time and effort for free'," Ms. Ringler said. "My husband has a trailer and we went down to the trash can and rolled it onto the trailer and put it on a pallet in our driveway."

What started out as artistic inspiration turned into a way for the family to bond with their neighbors, Ms. Ringler said. People would drop by to give her pieces of a favorite coffee mug or a plate, or just to watch her work.

She glued the pieces onto the can, then added grout to affix everything in place.

"It takes about 18 square feet of tile, maybe 40 or 50 dishes total," she said. "The materials cost under $50. It's a great hobby."

The finished project was back serving as a trash can on Oak Court for a while, but was recently moved to the corner of Menalto and Gilbert avenues.

On a sunny afternoon last week, Ms. Ringler pointed out pieces of a sushi plate painted with fish, a teapot lid, and a fragment of a coffee mug with a cat's face. Each section has a different color scheme, including vibrant blues and yellows.

E. Gary Smith, owner of the nearby Menalto Cleaners, strolled by and exclaimed, "This is wonderful!"

The project has drawn other fans as well. Nancy Chillag, who chairs the city's Arts Commission, remarked after a visit to see the mosaic: "It adds color and interest to the street corner and brought the neighborhood together to participate in the fun. Wouldn't it be great to see these springing up all over Menlo Park?"

Ms. Ringler said she'd like to decorate another trash can in the Willows, which technically would require the city's permission because it's city property, said Kent Steffens, director of public works.

Still, he added: "In this case, it doesn't seem like a big deal. I'll have to go out and look at it."

Ms. Ringler is hoping for more donations of broken crockery; she can be reached at 322-6199.

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