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Project

Dick and Jane's Spot Recycles into Art

Credits: ©2010 Dick & Jane’s Spot

Dick and Jane’s Spot is so popular that the City of Ellensburg, Washington, where it is located, created a ten-foot easement in 1991 that became a tourist walkway so that folks can get a closer look. The owners have collected “junk” for about 30 years and turned it into creative, playful, artful decoration around their home and yard. Bicycle wheels, bottle caps, hub caps, machinery parts, pieces of metal scraps, bottles, stones and thousands of reflectors have become people, animals, characters, and various contrived contraptions. While most landfills are fat with our cast-offs, this home celebrates the detritus from industry and life.

 

Dick & Jane

Dick and Jane's Spot, a house and yard decorated with recycled materials in Ellensburg, Washington. ©2010 R. Rogers

By Field Team from Roadside America - No one bothers Jane Orleman in her home -- except boneheads like us, who don't know what we're doing and just go barging in. The fence gate was open, we saw Jane in her glass-walled studio, and thought she was part of the attraction.

She isn't (although she cheerfully showed us around anyway). Jane lives in "Dick and Jane's Spot," as did Dick Elliott, until he died in 2008. For many years they also cohabited with a dog named Spot, so the name came naturally.

Dick and Jane's Spot is a sunny conglomeration of outdoor totems and sculptures, hundreds of glittery bicycle reflectors, and heads hacked-sculpted from old telephone poles with hammered nails for hair. It's just across the street from the Ellensburg police station, so it has a better-than-average chance against vandals that harass other folk art environments.

The police station wasn't there when Dick and Jane -- both artists -- bought the dilapidated house in 1978. Over the decades they turned the formerly boarded-up building into their playful "Gingerbread House" and its junk-filled yard into a tree-shaded garden for art -- theirs and others. "The first piece was one that we commissioned," Jane recalled. "And then we thought, well, we can do this! And once we started, there was no stopping."

"It was right about the time that Emil Gehrke died," said Jane (Emil was a Washington builder of mini-windmills). "So we felt like we were taking over the Central Washington psyche of having fun with art."

"Big Red" is a sassy ambassador for that ideal, a topless pink woman with a road reflector face and nipples. Jane made it for friends in Seattle, but Dick liked it so much that he put it in the front yard to entertain the police. "Big Red kept me from ever being on the Ellensburg Arts Commission," said Jane. "I would point out to people, 'That is not a nude woman. That's a telephone pole with reflectors.' But our mayor at the time was pretty aghast."

Jane walked us around the property, showing new additions and old favorites. The entryway arch supports heads of what appear to be a robot, a space alien, Jesus, and a local restaurateur with forks for eyeglasses. More heads -- those of the Seattle Arts Commission, according to Jane -- are cradled in the arms of a satisfied-looking bear.

A Tin Man stands to one side, his chest opened to reveal inner piping, gauges, and ductwork. Bright colors are everywhere, as are electrical insulators reworked as garden bells and googly eyeballs.

Earlier disagreements with the establishment have been forgotten, and Dick and Jane's Spot is now an accepted part of Ellensburg. The town even gave Dick and Jane ten feet of extra land along the north side of their house, so visitors could view the art without dodging cars in a next-door parking lot.

A kiosk by the street provides information for curious passers-by, while a guest book invites signatures. "Most people just walk around the outside and are tantalized," said Jane with a laugh. "Or it can be an aesthetic experience from the safety of your own car."

As for Jane, her presence depends entirely on timing -- we were lucky, or clueless, or both. As we wandered the front yard with Jane, a random child ran up the sidewalk and shouted "Hello Jane!" Jane said that she's met people in her yard that she's become friends with for 20 years. "If you hit it right, and I'm out moving hoses or something," she said, "or, you know, like today. The gate was open -- and you came in!"


Resources

Dick & Jane's Spot