Off the Map: A look into backyard paradises created by visionary artists around the world
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Exquisite Trash

Grade level: 7-9

Subjects: Social and Environmental Studies

Overview: In this activity, students will explore the ten interactive tours on the Off the Map Web site, taking into account what readily available items each artist used to create his or her vision. The students will discuss what items each artist used, and how they themselves might turn their everyday trash into something special.

Visionary artists are masters at using the materials around them to create works of art, even on a monumental scale. They “take nothing and make something” – and as such, can be the most imaginative recyclers.

Visit the site and look for recycled items: Ask the students to go through each interactive tour and read the travelogues. Ask them to note the artist featured and list the items he or she used.

A short list of recycled items used to create art on the Off the Map site:

Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey, Bottle Village: colored glass bottles, headlights, doll parts, things from the local dump

Helen Martins, Owl House and Camel Yard: colored ground glass, mirrors, bottles, postcards, items in her home

Ferdinand Cheval (a.k.a. Postman Cheval), Palais Ideál: local stones, fossils, wire

Howard Finster, Paradise Garden: household items, garden tools, coins, scrap parts (including bicycle parts, TVs), images and items from pop culture

Eddie Owens Martin (a.k.a. St. EOM), Pasaquan: housepaint, feathers, beads, cloth, etc.

Leonard Knight, Salvation Mountain: adobe, donated paint

Tom O. Every (a.k.a. Dr. Evermor), Forevertron: out-dated industrial parts, from his job, donated machine parts, brass bedposts, survey markers, gasoline nozzles

Nek Chand, The Rock Garden: clay; rocks; stones; industrial and local trash; broken ceramic ware, rags, tiles and other refuse from his home city

Simon Rodia, Watts Tower: steel and mortar, broken glass, pottery shards, beach shells, wire

Vollis Simpson, Windmill Park: machine parts, kitchen appliances, bicycle wheels, street signs, highway reflectors


Have the students write up a list of the things they, their family, or their neighbors have thrown away in the past month. Have them compile the list into two sections: 1) materials that conceivably could be used to create something else; 2) materials that could not be easily reused.

How could the not easily recyclable waste be reused? What would they do with it? Think of Leonard Wright and Salvation Mountain, or Nek Chand and his Rock Garden.

How could/would they use the other material, and possibly the more difficult to reuse material, to create an environment that would be their own backyard paradise? Students may write short essays on the subject.

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