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Artist/collector transforms discarded items into imaginative collages

Artist/collector transforms discarded items into imaginative collages

Some people look at old weather vanes, hammer handles and buggy wheels — and see junk. Jack Metzger
Artist/collector transforms discarded items into imaginative collages
Jack Metzger stands next to his "Color My World" sculpture, made from an antique buggy wheel and wooden lawn balls, inside his Cambridge antiques store. (Jeff Wilkin/Gazette reporter)

Some people look at old weather vanes, hammer handles and buggy wheels — and see junk.

Jack Metzger sees potential artwork. For the past 10 years, the 63-year-old Cambridge antiques dealer has been working in assemblage — the assembly and arrangement of unrelated objects, parts and materials into sculptured collage.

Sixteen of his pieces will be on display at this week’s annual “SaratogaArtsFest,” a celebration of music, dance, visual arts, film, theater and literary art that will be held at several Saratoga Springs locations.

Venues include the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Congress Park, Caffè Lena, Skidmore College and the festival’s headquarters inside The National men’s clothing store and Frivolous Boutique at 385 Broadway. Metzger’s rescued and repurposed junk will be seen at SAF headquarters.

The festival began Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

“This is an old buggy wheel,” Metzger said of a four-foot tall wooden circle that sits in the front window of his Jack’s Outback Antiques on West Main Street in Cambridge. “It doesn’t have the spokes or the hub.”

What the relic from the 1880s does have is red, yellow, green and blue wooden lawn balls attached to twisted metal rods; the rods are attached to a thin steel pole welded to the top and bottom of the wheel. All together, they resemble a solar system with planets frozen in crazy orbits.

“It’s called ‘Color My World,’ ” Metzger said.

Another piece shows a dozen awls — wooden-handled tools with thin, pointed steel rods used for punching holes in leather and wood — stuck inside the top of an old wooden porch spindle. “Awl Together Now,” said Metzger.

A copper milk pail from the 1890s — designed with a small glass hole near the top to let the farmer know the container was full — has been turned upside down, decorated with copper “petals” and topped with an old bowling ball suspended by rods inserted into both ball and pail. “I call it the ‘Dairy Princess,’ Metzger said.

He’s been interested in artifacts since he was a kid. The first searches came when he worked for his family’s business in Utica, Joseph J. Metzger and Sons Building Contractors, which remodeled area homes.

“I was always out back, looking at the out buildings — the smokehouse, henhouse, barns, icehouses,” Metzger said. “Each building had really neat stuff from the 1800s.”

Discarded iron and wood could often be found in the old buildings. Metzger became a collector; he opened his antiques store in 1991. He began using abandoned pieces for art purposes about 10 years ago.

“I can’t paint anything, but I love the creative process,” he said. “Most of the time, these get sent to a dump or melted down. They’re better than that, if I can repurpose them to another form. Most people just throw these things away.”

He finds his materials by digging in junk piles on old farm sites, but the prizes come at a price. He’s got to pay the site owner for anything he takes home. “Nobody gives anything away for nothing,” he said.

The investments pay off. Metzger said he loves working with cast iron and loves how ideas flow when he begins working on a piece. “A lot of times when I do stuff, I don’t know how it’s going to end up,” he said.

Sometimes, his pieces begin in pieces. He once dug into a Vermont dump site and found stoneware fragments from the 1880s. He mounted them on salvaged 18th century ceiling boards with heavy gauge brass wire, and inserted the collage inside a 1920s-era painted wooden foundry pattern.

Becoming creative often means becoming introspective. Metzger said touching iron and wood from the 1800s is like touching the past. “Everything has a diary and a story,” he said. “These are things our great-grandparents used on a daily basis.”

Metzger showed off an iron asbestos cutter. “There’s more iron in here than in our cars put together,” he said. “It’s timeless, too. This will never fall apart.”

Putting an old shoe sole on display — complete with exposed small nails — is meant to enlighten and inform. “I don’t know if we even use nails in our shoes today,” Metzger said.

If people are enlightened by his pieces, he counts their buoyant feelings as a victory. “It’s your own interpretation, what is art?” he asked. “If it makes you think a thought . . . I have no idea what the definition of art is. If it moves you in any way, good or bad — if it’s uplifting to people — the more the better.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]

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