Drive into Sebastopol, a town of about 7,800 people located 50 miles north of San Francisco, and you won’t be greeted with the sort of welcome plaque commonly posted at the entrances of so many small towns. Instead, you’ll meet the “Star Caster,” a fanciful fisherman created by artist Patrick Amiot using more than 1,000 can lids and other cast-offs. Another 170 of his sculptures are scattered up and down the town’s streets. On Florence Avenue, where Amiot lives, at least 25 sculptures are on display, many on neighbors’ lawns.
There’s “Surfer Girl,” who rides an ironing board across a wave made from a Volkswagen car hood, and the “Garden Lady,” whose floppy hat gives new life to a battered washtub. And who could miss the “Zucchini Brothers,” a three-man juggling act reaching high into the air?
“When I do a project, I never know where it’s going to lead me. It all has to do with what kind of junk I’ll find,” Amiot tells Spark as he goes to work on a sculpture for Sebastopol’s annual Apple Blossom Parade.
Amiot is nothing if not prolific. His yard is littered with the fruits of his labors and with fodder for many more. The raw materials for his work come from any number of sources: junkyards, flea markets, locals who barter old car parts and other cast-offs. Many donate their junk to Amiot instead of throwing it away. Once a ceramicist living in Montreal, Amiot became known for his junk art sculptures after a months-long cross-country road trip that landed the artist and his family in this Northern California town in 1997.
“The way it started was that I had this desire to do something other than my clay, so I decided to make this giant fisherman. I just put it right in front of the house and figured, well, if there was a city ordinance that tells me to take it away, that’ll be fine. To my amazement, people actually enjoyed looking at it. People slowed down and waved. So that was the beginning, and then came another one, and they eventually started to go onto other people’s front yards — on my street, of course — and then after six months I sold my first one,” he says.
Today, Amiot’s body of work includes the junk sculptures for which he is best known as well as ceramics and pop rivet sculptures made of metal pieces, which are painted by his wife, Brigitte Laurent. For Amiot and his family, the art literally spilling out of their home and throughout Sebastopol is about much more than art for art’s sake. Amiot sums it all up perfectly: “What it says is, ‘Welcome to our humble, but whimsical, fun, recycled, conscientious community.”