Local artist turns unwanted materials into whimsical creations
Upon approaching local artist Roger Braddy’s studio, one gets a clear sense of entering another person’s mental landscape. A small Gumby ornament waves happily from atop the large double doors of the converted garage, letting spectators know that this is an artist willing to poke fun at himself.
What may not be immediately obvious is his commitment to the environment, but it takes only a little exploration into his art space and daily routine to realize that being environmentally minded has been a holistic and long-term effort.
From the gate welded together with rusted rims, wrenches, horseshoes, reflectors, and gears to the myriad charismatic faces peering between blades of grass, everything at Braddy’s Caledonia Art Studio in Chico is crafted from materials once destined for the landfill.
At the core of his work are a series of masks that begin as discarded bicycle seats; some newer, others steel relics, each presenting unique challenges in design and construction. The seats serve as a metaphor for a throw-away culture, and are characteristic of Braddy’s subtle approach to spreading environmental awareness.
“Rather than be confrontational with people and say, ‘You’re wasteful and we have these landfills that are going to encase us,’ I’d rather be a little more playful and say, ‘Oh, you’re throwing that away? Really? Oh! You want to buy something from me, guess what?’ ” said Braddy, referring to the fact that his work is made from tossed-away materials.
Braddy says he doesn’t want the pieces to look created, but rather like something that would pop out from a landfill, which is precisely where most of the materials used to create them would have wound up. Still, each face is crafted with meticulous care and attention to detail. A wide variety of curved bike forks become horns or antennae, ornate marbles serve as eyes, broken and often antique ceramics or glassware become decorative flesh. Each piece projects a vivid personality, and all of the masks represent materials that someone else discarded.
Julie Shaw, a Butte College instructor and local artist, remembers meeting Braddy in the 1980s. Back then, he was doing mail art on an international level using discarded materials to create wonderful collages. She pointed out that he always integrated his sense of humor into his artwork.
Beyond finding the comical aspects of his creations, Braddy hopes people who view the pieces might remember an old bicycle seat they threw away and cheaply replaced, rather than repair it. He explains that there is a steep, unspoken cost in this behavior:
“When people start realizing that a seat made in China has to be imported, so they’re burning diesel fuels to get it here, and more to ship it across the country, that’s a huge carbon footprint for a bit of plastic,” he said.
Caledonia Art Studio was birthed in a 33-day stretch to coincide with the first incarnation of Art First Saturday in late 2006, and will be celebrating its belated one-year anniversary on Saturday (Feb. 2). In typical Braddy fashion, the rustic, inviting gallery is the product of conscious recycling and the support of local, skilled labor.
He rescued beautiful redwood fence board destined for the landfill from a contractor for the interior walls of the studio, turned foam cut out of old spa covers into insulation, purchased improperly mixed green paint at an extreme discount to highlight the interior of the space, and used track lighting offered from a friend’s attic for illumination. The sale of a mask supplied the funds to pay a local carpenter’s labor costs, thus completing the process of creating something out of nothing with the added bonus of supporting a local tradesman.
However, it was not only a fortuitous series of events that inspired Braddy’s desire for an art studio. His unique bicycle masks were being sold in a San Francisco gallery for an average price of $1,500, often purchased by people traveling from Chico. Sales from local buyers were a welcome source of income, but Braddy couldn’t help feeling distraught about the resulting carbon footprint. (The pieces first had to be shipped from Chico to San Francisco, which then required locals to trek to the Bay Area to make the acquisition.) In addition, he lost several hundred dollars to pay the gallery’s percentage.
Caledonia Art Studio has helped eliminate the need for unnecessary fuel and allowed him to sell the masks at a much lower price. Minimizing wasted resources and encouraging local interest are both things that define the studio.
As for Braddy’s everyday life, it’s clear his green sense extends far beyond his art. In front of his home sits a vintage white pickup truck, which is typically driven only when he has a paid home-improvement gig. Mostly, he can be seen riding his bicycle around town.
Recently, he had a tankless water heater installed in his home, a technology that dramatically cuts down on natural gas usage by heating water quickly when needed rather than having to keep a large tank heated continuously. As part of Braddy’s give-and-take relationship with his environment and the people around him, he hired Steve Townsend’s Plumbing to install his tankless unit. Townsend regularly donates slavaged plumbing goods, such as flex line and faucets, which eventually find their way into Braddy’s work.
Braddy is quick to point out that these things not only stem from a desire to decrease his carbon footprint, but also are simply practical. For example, riding a bicycle saves money, keeps him in better shape, and lowers his blood pressure, helping him avoid a need to take medication with serious side effects. And the tankless water heater allows him to take showers at an exacting high temperature, aiding with some of the stiffness that comes with getting older.
“There is a karmic result in everything we do,” Braddy said. “Many of the benefits I’ve received for making environmental decisions were not part of the original transaction, and those unexpected gifts greatly increase my quality of life.”
Eco-consciousness aside, what makes him an unforgettable person as well as an interesting artist is his unwavering and skewed sense of humor. Rather than take himself too seriously, he chooses instead to play with the fact that his work is made of other people’s trash. Braddy recalls a sign hanging above an old antique store with a saying that he now applies to his artistic process:
“We buy junk, but we sell antiques.”