He's heavy into metal

Amid the inflatable Santas and strings of lights on 34th Street, a scrap artist sets himself apart with that 8-foot-tall hubcap tree

Work in Progress

December 16, 2007|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,Sun reporter

It's hard to stand out in a wonderland of kitsch, but Jim Pollock does just that. In 1996, the scrap-metal artist made a tiny Christmas tree out of hubcaps. Today, it's 8 feet high, incorporates more than 100 wheel covers and stands in front of his house at 708 W. 34th St. in Hampden, a dented destination of choice for the thousands who crowd his block for the famed miracle of lights every holiday season.

They come for his hospitality - he opens his home to visitors, including 30,000 last year - but also for the whimsy in his work. Pollock, 41, has made art of antlers, farm tools and catcher's masks, much of it on display in his house. His holiday works include bicycle-rim snowmen, a wire tree hung with Natty Boh cans and crab ornaments with wrenches for claws.

A graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art, he works full time at the New Arts Foundry in Hampden.

IN HIS WORDS --We all use art every single day. You can't get into your car, lift up a spoon or look at an ad without being affected by art. For centuries, we've all decorated, in one form or another.

ONE INSPIRING CHRISTMAS --My own cousin, God rest his soul, wrapped himself in Christmas lights and plugged himself in. Talk about art; that was something to see!

ROOTS OF THE TREE --The blizzard of 1996 left a huge pothole on Keswick Avenue. The drivers would hit that pothole, and their hubcaps would go flying. My neighbor and I started collecting them. We found more by the sides of roads. They're all over the place, if you're looking.

She wanted to make a tree, so I welded up a frame out of pencil steel. We hung the hubcaps from it on wires, like ornaments. It was so popular, it just kept growing.

GIVING SHAPE --The bigger hubcaps make the bottom. Later, I needed different sizes for balance and layering. I'm desperate for smaller ones to decorate the top. Those usually come off big trucks; they're the little caps that go over the wheel bolts.

WHY METAL? --When I first graduated [in 1989], I was homeless and needed a job. A friend worked at the foundry, where artists go to get their bronzes cast. He said, "You've got skill; why not try it?" I've been there for 18 years.

My boss, Gary Siegel, taught me to weld and to troubleshoot - how do you hang that piece? How does it stand? How do you get it through the door? He lets me use the place after hours to do my work. It's six blocks away. I feel blessed.

THE ANNUAL MIRACLE --I get thousands of people streaming through who may not go to museums or galleries in their lives. They're willing to walk up these stairs and look around. I can open my home, throw the door open and let the people decide.

But I'll tell you what [the fest] means. Once, a nun came through here, and she said it best: "It's a bright light of hope in a world full of pain." It's always been that to me.

ABOUT TWO WEEKS LEFT --The lights festival will be up and running through Jan. 1.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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