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Panhandle artist turns trash into treasure

July 10, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Up close, artist David Heatwole's mural in downtown Martinsburg appears to be little more than a colorful display of trash.

Thousands of bottle caps from soft drinks and laundry detergent jugs and lids from jars of pickles, spaghetti sauce and tubs of buttery spread collectively fool a probing eye.

Only from a distance does the uneven array of plastic and metal begin to blend into a vivid, 8-foot-by-16-foot depiction of a self-portrait of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh with a bandaged ear and pipe.

"This mural was made by taking chaos of trash that was heading for the landfills and giving order to it," Heatwole said in speech, which he started with a joke about van Gogh's bandaged ear, asking the small crowd on hand to "lend me your ears."

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Unveiled Friday morning outside Redbrick Gallery at 404 W. King St., Heatwole's "Put A Lid On It Project" is expected to be on display until December.

The 39-year Martinsburg artist said he didn't count the number of lids and caps and other items he and about a dozen volunteer helpers glue to sections of display board in the last two weeks.

"If someone wants to volunteer their time, like I volunteered my time the last two weeks, to count them, I'll give you a prize ..." Heatwole told the crowd gathered for the ceremony.

Heatwole began the project in April 2008 with the help of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, which began giving him plastic caps that should have been removed from bottles that were dropped off for recycling. The caps cannot be recycled locally, Heatwole said.

He chose to create a mural depicting van Gogh's 1889 oil-on-canvas painting because of a rumored connection between Berkeley County and the last surviving relative of the Dutch artist.

"His last living relative supposedly lived in this area, of all places, and taught professional golf (before returning to Europe)," Heatwole said. "Now, I can't say that's true, I haven't researched it totally, but I'm kind of doing this in hopes that someone would come forth who might know whether that was true or not."

Heatwole said the mural was his seventh community collaborative project, and he hopes the publicity will generate interest in creating more environment-minded works of art.

"Maybe after this one, I'll have more people in the area interested in helping," Heatwole said.

Martinsburg Mayor George Karos, who took part in the unveiling, said he was impressed with the artwork and thanked Redbrick Gallery owner Doreane Conrad Mosser and her husband, Dan, for their investment and restoration of what was a troubled downtown property.

Randy Lewis, executive director of Main Street Martinsburg, thanked Heatwole for all of his hard work, which he later said complimented other downtown public art projects that have been launched in the last few years to help revitalize the business district.

Lewis said a micromural project involving the unveiling of a number small paintings on several downtown historic buildings might be launched in September.

On Sept. 5, painted wood palettes on display in downtown as part of Main Street Martinsburg's third Palette Project are scheduled to be auctioned during First Saturday activities.

"Each year gets better," Lewis said. "This year, we juried them and we really got some good palettes ... we had 37 that submitted drawings and we took 25.

"We have so many artists in this area that we need to embrace and encourage. So, hopefully, this is the beginning and it's going to get better and better."

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