One man's junk is another man's art
January 14, 2010
By Jeff Manesjeffmanes@sbcglobal.net
Dwayne Bulla is a junk-metal artist. The first time we met, he was dressed in pioneer garb while
promoting his trade and hawking his wares at Buckley Homestead's Fall Festival in Lowell.
I was impressed by Bulla's unique "junque," so his contact information was logged into my exhaustive
home archival files -- 500 to 600 business cards strewn onto my study floor. It's been 21/2 years, and he's
still in business.
Bulla, 47, graduated from Highland High School. He and his wife, Paula, have lived in DeMotte for 20
years. They've raised one son.
I worked in the mill with a guy who had the same names as you -- minus the letter D at the beginning.
"That would be my cousin, Wayne Bulla," Bulla began.
Is being a junk-metal artist your sole source of income?
"No, I've worked at Kapers Building Material right here in DeMotte for eight years -- inside sales. It's a
great family-owned company that's been around since 1936."
"I work with contractors who come into the (lumber) yard or with potential homeowners who have a set of
plans and want to know how much it will cost to build a house. So, I'll figure out a material list for them.
We sit down together and go over things like options on windows and doors. That's just one aspect of my
You're a 2-by-4 kind of guy during the day and a man of steel at night.
"It basically started from my interest in wanting to learn how to be a blacksmith, which I eventually did at
the Round Barn Museum in Rochester. But blacksmithing is more of an artistic type of craft today. Except
for doing re-enactment-type things, you're limited. So, I took a couple of welding classes at Ivy Tech
about 10 years ago and combined the two trades into a hobby. It's kind of like Old World meets New
Tools of the trade?
"Not that many; I have an anvil, tongs and various-sized hammers. Some modern blacksmiths are using
gas-fired forges, but I still do it the old-fashioned way -- with a coal-fired forge. There was always
something about the smell of burning coal, the tink, tink, tink of the hammer on the anvil, and the ability to
move and manipulate metal that fascinated me."
More about the forge.
"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."
– Thomas Edison
"I do have a genuine hand-cranked forge that a blacksmith would've used in the day; I'll use it when I'm at
a public place like Buckley Homestead. But if I'm just trying to get some artwork done around here, I use
a forge I made from an old truck tire rim that I lined with fire brick."
Added Paula: "When I go on my walks, I pick up things like eyeballs for Dwayne."
"She's referring to flat washers."
What are some other items you use to create these recycled home and garden sculptures?
"Wire, trowels, rebar, shovels, faucet handles, fan blades, lawn-mower blades, wheelbarrow rims ... . I lop
the handles off of open-end wrenches; they make nice pincers for my horseshoe crabs. The crab bodies
are made from horseshoes. Sickles and scythes work great for herons and egrets. Concrete nails are
perfect for bird beaks or grasshopper legs. I've made grasshoppers out of old pipe wrenches."
I like the insects.
"The grasshoppers and dragonflies are very popular when I do shows. So are the hummingbirds and
snails. I just sold a snail to a lady from Colorado today.
"Paula helps me bend snails. I have a little jig that I made; I'll put it in this old leg vise that blacksmiths
"Hummingbirds are made from railroad spikes. I'll place a spike in the forge, get it good and hot, then
bend the 'body' to look like a hummingbird.
"No piece is identical. The junk is never the same and the mood of the artist is never the same. You can't
really mass produce in my business."
Dwayne, that's what's cool about it. How many pieces have you created?
"A lot. Two years ago, I ordered 1,000 tags with my name and logo on them; I had to reorder the other
Ranging from $10 to $25, your prices are extremely reasonable.
"I'd rather make something, sell it fast, and see somebody enjoy it.
"I'm proud to be part of the green movement. Most of my 'raw materials' would probably end up in a
landfill. "I always get in the Trash to Treasure exhibit at the Visitors Center. Last year, there was an artistwho made lamp shades from X-rays and another person who made jewelry from typewriter keys."