This month’s feature reveals a special art partnership between Hyde Park neighbors Mary Hogan and Jen Gaman. We recently sat down at Coffee Break Cafe to discuss how it came about.
Mary: I’ve lived in Hyde Park for about 30 years and I walk a lot. About 20 years ago I started picking up pieces of metal that I saw on the sidewalk and lo and behold I began seeing faces and things that could be made out of them, and I just started doing crafts. Now that I’m retired I can work on it more!
Jen: I’ve been in Hyde Park for about 4 years, and I got into this because of Mary. We first met at the Keep Hyde Park Beautiful Yard Sale, but I wanted to be her friend before because of her yard with all the cool art out front. It was pretty exciting to realize she was the woman with the cool house and then we found out we had trash picked the same pile: she had taken this really cool old rocking chair, and I had taken a vintage typewriter in the original carry case and all this amazing stuff was just sitting on the sidewalk on trash day.
Mary: It used to happen a lot more often when there were elderly people leaving the community and the kids didn’t want their things so they’d just put them out on the sidewalk and we’d say, “Ooooh this is great!”
Jen: Mary started telling me more about her art and said, “Ooooh I wanna make shadow boxes; let’s make shadow boxes together!” and I said, “Sure OK why not!” She empowered me to start picking things up from the sidewalk. I remember the first day I sent her a picture all proud, “Look! Look! I picked up 3 tile spacers today and a bouncy rubber eyeball” and she was like, “Good job, Jen!” We still haven’t made any shadow boxes after all this time! It’s an outstanding project, but I can’t even count the number of times we send each other messages on Facebook: “Look what I found,!” “Look what I did?,” “What should I do here?” It’s been nice to have somebody encourage my creativity.
Do either of you have a professional arts background?
Mary: I used to be a 4th teacher and I loved to do crafts with the kids, but I don’t have an artistic background. This is all learned! I took a course in welding at Keefe Tech. Before when I had the metal pieces I was screwing them together, using magnets, glue... then I saw this welding course. It was fun! So I did that and bought a little welder, and I weld down in my cellar. I’ve been welding about 8-10 years now. I have thousands of pieces of metal. People started giving me metal too - they started dropping them off on the porch.
How would you describe your style? I noticed you used lottery tickets in your art.
Mary: Basic I’m just mostly doing faces, masks and people. The lottery tickets was Jen’s idea! I had the idea to use the cans - just to use/recycle the trash cause you see so much of it.
Jen: Well we worked on it together. It was a back and forth trying to figure stuff out. Eventually we figured out how to cut the shapes out of the cans...I don’t have an art background at all; I took a history of art and music class in high school, and I really regret not taking art history in college. I found this great coffee table book of Grandma Moses’ paintings, and I started to realize I really like folk art; it was the hook to make me realize there’s all this other kind of art you don’t learn about in school. There’s folk art, there’s outsider art - that’s really interesting to me! So I guess I kind of make outsider art.*
[*Outsider art is a bit of a catch-all term for art that falls outside of the scope of traditional art.]
Where do you find inspiration?
Jen: Sometimes I do Google Image searches, but I’m mostly in my head. Mary’s a good person to bounce things off of.
What is your collaboration dynamic? Is this something others can do?
Jen: Mary and I both pick stuff up from the street, but we each have different ways of making art. I can’t make what Mary makes, but it’s great to have a forum to share what I’m working on. I would love to see what other people think to create and what comes out of their heads.
How do you know when a project is done; how much time do spend on your art?
Jen: It’s good to work when you’re inspired. There’s a discipline to it. You’re supposed to work on it everyday, but I haven’t really been doing that. I wish I had more time.
Mary: I’m constantly thinking about it! I want to finish this piece, I want to work on this…
Jen: I get inspiration from the things I find; I have a lot of pieces that I sit with and think about. I ask, “Why am I drawn to this and not that.”
Mary: I love the faces that I see.
Jen: There’s actually a name for that!
Mary: I’ve been seeing faces in objects since I was a kid.
[After the interview I looked it up and found that it’s called “pareidolia” - a psychological phenomenon that causes people to see patterns in a random stimulus.]
Do you share your art?
Jen: I post a lot of things on Facebook. I’ve received positive, encouraging comments and others who say, “You have a lot of time on your hands.”
Mary: I don’t think people appreciate that it’s all found art that you’re creating!
What role do environmental concerns play in your art?
Jen: I don’t have any delusions that, “Oh I’ve picked these things up and I’m making art, therefore I’m saving the environment.” I’m not picking up even a grain of sand in the ocean of trash, but I’ve noticed I’ve started buying less and less brand new stuff and asking more and more, “What I can salvage? What can I reuse? What can I buy second hand?” Art supplies, first of all, they’re expensive and second of all, everything is very sterile, but when you find something on the street there’s so much patina and wear and interesting shapes that you can’t just walk into a craft store and find that. There’s certain things at a craft store that are useful, but it’s all kind of uniform. I like things that are not uniform.
Mary: I do too!
Do you foresee selling or showing your art?
Mary: I have a little show at the Dedham library. That’s nice! Someone there did want a dog art piece I made. The thing is I hang mine up at home, but I don’t think the average person would put a car part up on their wall!
Jen: I would hang it up!...I recently made a handmaid and a friend was interested in it so I promised it to her. I’m more than happy if someone likes something to just give it to them.
Nominate yourself or someone in the community for a Humans of Hyde Park story; nominees can remain anonymous in the story or use their first name only if they prefer: https://goo.gl/forms/qgTj1Rh8t2bSbh973
Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.