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Artistic Liftoff Trash to Treasures gives Monterey Peninsula Airport two significant shows.

Artistic Liftoff

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Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 2:09 pm, Thu May 16, 2013.

The art gallery at the Monterey Peninsula Airport is an out-in-the-open secret. It sits above the bustle of the ground floor of the small terminal, waiting for people to find it. Eventually they do, says the gallery’s curator and art consultant Ilene Tuttle, who’s been at the job since 1985.

“Golden Tee Restaurant brings people in,” she says, “or they park upstairs and walk through it, or they see [from below] that there’s something up here.”

What they’ll see up “here” (and for the rest of the year) is a new show of old art on the mezzanine level called Trash to Treasures, opening 5-7pm Friday (on one of the busiest weekends of the year, serendipitously enough), consisting of four kiosks filled with pieces borrowed from Ames Gallery in Berkeley, which according to its website specializes in “folk art and the works of self-taught, naive, intuitive, art brut and visionary art,” and one filled with six pieces from local artists Ray Magsalay and Ed Leeper.

One Ames kiosk is devoted to self-taught metal artist Jim Bauer, who uses the wares of his former profession – he was a teapot and kettle salesman – to build shiny metal robots and animals with eyes that light up.

Other kiosks hold Ames objects including gnarly, finished, handmade canes with animal and human heads carved out of the handles; another contains prison art in the form of chairs made from cigarette wrappers, and “memory jugs,” memorabilia pasted into clay-covered jugs like some fat photo album; and another holds untrained folk art objects of crude but intricately detailed houses, chairs and a moped made from a Coca-Cola can. That one is accompanied by a rustic cabin made from .22 caliber shells.

Shells bring us back to the Peninsula’s own Ray Magsalay, who shares a kiosk with one piece by Ed Leeper.

By way of talking about his prolific artistic output (one year he created 200 pieces) of macabre and disparate assemblages of animal bones, toys, religious icons and other found detritus, Magsalay goes back in time, which is one of the themes of the show’s historical “rubble, cans, scraps and outright junk” (hey, their words).

“In 1948, ’49, Alvarado Street was a rough part of town,” he says. “Flop houses, prostitution, there were 25 bars, gay bars… it was considered the bad part of town. It was exciting because you’d see fights, ladies of the night, it was amazing.”

So what did a 9-year-old, basically left on his own via a single-parent upbringing do? He made an art piece. He collected gum from under tables and balled it up, then found .22 mm shells from two shooting galleries frequented by Fort Ord soldiers and stuck them into it and carried it around like some trophy.

His pieces at the airport are assemblages of found and discarded objects, reformed into grotesque and fascinating sculptures. One of them, “Exploring the Possibility of Process & Outcome,” is a ramshackle tower of bamboo sticks, doll parts, a bird (a recurring theme in much of his work) and other random objects.

Ed Leeper’s single piece in the show – a subject of contention, says Leeper, because he was supposed to have two – is a self-portrait of himself with whip cream lathered on his face, obscuring his visage, surrounded by over 1,000 rusty nails. That’s Leeper.

“It doesn’t say anything,” he says. “It’s a bunch of foolishness. In the art magazines, it’s ‘surreal.’”

The airport’s Youth Gallery will be plastered with a giant caterpillar made by the special needs kids in the HeART Therapy Project, while another exhibit, like Trash to Treasures, also marshalls history – Against the Odds: Pioneering Women of Monterey County is made up of cleanly arranged archival photos and artifacts, with lengthy captions underneath, of various unsung women who’ve helped shape Monterey County through forays in science and medicine, culture, art, business and politics. One display of such meritorious achievement belongs to Dr. Julia Platt, who wrote the charter for Pacific Grove, longhand, on six sheets of paper (displayed in a case there). But that wasn’t enough for the dynamo; she also established a protected area for the coastal wildlife, agitated for ahead-of-its-time change to allow public access to P.G.’s natural wonders, and became the city’s first woman mayor at age 74. She’s joined by a team of other women who, in their own way, forged paths that propelled the county and the prospects of women.

“People like it so much,” Tuttle says, “it’s going to stay there ’til it wears out.”

That’s several great reasons to stop by the airport, regardless of any travel itinerary.

TRASH TO TREASURES: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON SURPLUS OF THE PAST opens with a reception 5-7pm Friday, at Monterey Peninsula Airport, 200 Fred Kane Drive, Ste. 200, Monterey. 648-7000 x200, Regular hours: Open 24 hours.

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