Richard Gatney, 72, crafted unique creations from castoff materials

November 03, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Richard Gatney could make something out of what seemed to be nothing. For instance, he'd take a discarded soup can and turn it into a shelved jewelry case. Or he'd carve into a rusted pipe and soon have an ivy planter.

He spent many afternoons at junkyards and considerable time sifting through trash bins.

Mr. Gatney, 72, who died Wednesday of heart failure while at his brother's home in Hartford, Conn., considered his fascination with forgotten and broken items a "cheap hobby that anybody could play," his brother said.

"His stuff could be assembled from the Dumpster and sold to those little cutesy arts-and-crafts stores where junk is considered beauty in the eye of its beholder," said Leonard Gatney of Hartford. "He used his talent and creativity to make them what he wanted."

Mr. Gatney lived in the Walbrook section of West Baltimore and converted his back yard and basement into workshops and studios where he kept his creations. For example, a bald tire was transformed into a clock with forks as arms and a motor from a toy truck. A chunk of a car door propped by a wooden bat was a table.

He had a collection of chairs, including a toilet on pegs with the lid nailed shut. Perhaps his favorite creation was a bathtub on wheels, with a lid attached, that he used as a storage chest. He painted the tub the color of wood and drew a keyhole on its side.

"It's amazing what he could build using the most available items around. He could invent stuff that didn't seem to have any quality, but was high quality when he finished with it," said Les Burgess, a former neighbor and old friend.

A native of Richmond, Va., Mr. Gatney served in the Army from 1944 to 1945. Upon his discharge, he enrolled in Johnson C. Smith College in North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor's degree in business in 1952.

He settled in Baltimore in the early 1960s and worked as a welder at the Sparrows Point Bethlehem Steel location until about 1970. He worked as a bank teller for several years, then held various jobs -- including cook, chauffeur, substitute school teacher and salesman -- until he retired in the late 1980s.

Mr. Gatney was active in his community and would regularly break up groups that gathered on corners or call police if he saw trouble.

"He had no fear of anything or anyone," said his cousin, Craig Jones of Baltimore. "He spoke his mind and did what he felt was right. He lived by his own morals. He didn't want any trouble in his neighborhood and didn't cause any, either."

Services were held yesterday .

He married the former Lee Stubbs in 1958; she died in 1991. In addition to his brother, he is survived by a son, Benjamin Gatney of Baltimore; a daughter, Latrice Gatney-White of Washington; two other brothers, Curtis Gatney of New York City and Wayland Gatney of Baltimore; a sister, Sheila Bunner of New York; and five grandchildren.

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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