Go Deeper

Bike into Art

Posted July 22nd, 2009

It’s a little like entering a dungeon–you walk around back of St. Mary’s Church on Penn’s campus, and with some trepidation descend the steep steps beneath a padlocked metal door. But tucked underground is a treasure trove of gears, tires, and handlebars waiting to be transformed.

This is the secret cave where artists head for their “bike part raids,” the first step in the Bike Part Art Show, happening this fall at the Philly Fringe. The scraps come courtesy of the Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW), which supports an array of community programs involving bicycles. Artists use the recycled materials to create everything from jewelry to furniture to wall hangings, which are auctioned off at the Bike Part Art Show. All proceeds support NBW’s programs.

Kate Duncan, who is organizing the show this year, says that while many participants are professional artists or belong to Dumpster Divers, plenty are Bike Works volunteers or even unaffiliated enthusiasts. Since the show weaves together the arts world, biking and environmentalist communities, and youth outreach advocacy, she gets participants from all walks of Philly life.

Find out just who participates and what they make after the jump

“Personally, I originally come from the arts and organization side,” says Duncan, who has also worked with Sue Ellen Klein, a founder of NBW, on her Spokes People projects. “And I didn’t want to be a poser, so I started biking . . . and it’s made me completely fall in love with it.”

“The best part is that it’s a charity, too,” says Duncan. One program gives kids the chance to earn their own bike by working on repairs and attending bike safety classes. “These are kids who normally couldn’t afford a camp, or afford a bike . . . and it’s just amazing to watch them working together.”

She says that even though the art show isn’t a live performance like most Fringe productions, the process has its performative elements. “If you could just see the artists come here and pick through stuff . . . and see them when they find a piece and hold it up and say ‘Oh my god, it’s a moose!’ that’s the show part,” she says.

Look out for two new and exciting things in this year’s show. One is the Bike Motif Craft Boutique, where attendees can buy crafts at a flat rate instead of bidding on the auction items. “So if you can’t stay until the end of the auction, or you want to make sure you leave with something, you can do that,” she says.

The second is another opportunity for the kids of Neighborhood Bike Works: “At the summer camp, they got to have a workshop with photographer JJ Tiziou,” explains Duncan, “and everyone had a donated camera. They just loved them. So now at the show, the kids will be able to take pictures, have them developed, and keep them.”

Before any of that can happen, however, the artists have to dig, dig, dig. “You have to get a little dirty,” she says. Most of the eye-catching stuff hides at the bottom. “These are always people’s favorite,” she adds, holding up a set of gears, with pedals intact. “It’s so much fun to see people fall in love with a shiny thing they find, or a rusty thing.”

Artist Randall Cleaver has been falling in love with these scraps since the show’s first run seven years ago. Cleaver, a member of both Dumpster Divers and, says he “liked what the Neighborhood Bike Works was doing for kids, and liked getting free ‘art supplies,'” so he’s contributed a piece every year since.

Check out this year’s Cleaver masterpiece: it’s called Whirly Time, and when you turn the crank in back, the clock and propeller spin. Says Cleaver, “I have been looking into whirligigs, so that was on my mind when the Bike Works sent out their call for art. Since the crank was there I thought it should do something, so I used some ideas from whirligigs and made it human powered.”

Julie Deery, another artist, is new to the show this year and hasn’t assembled her creation quite yet. But prepare to be impressed–Deery, a sculptor and mural artist on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Council rosters, comes with expertise in both the bike and art realms. A member of the local T3 Triathlon team and a top-ranked Masters athlete, Deery raced an Ironman for her 40th birthday, and has been biking (and swimming and running) ever since.

“I’m thinking about doing something 3D,” she says, “because during the summertime is when I don’t have to be working on a flat surface. And I hope to incorporate mosaic somehow.”

The culminating party and silent auction on September 18 will feature live music, snacks, drinks, raffles, and more. “I think you’ll find some unique art,” says Deery. “You never know what you’re going to find.” If you play your cards right, even Whirly Time could soon be sitting on your coffee table.

–Mara Miller

Photos of Neighborhood Bike Works by Mara Miller. Top photo is a Julie Deery sculpture. Bottom photo is Randall Cleaver’s work, Whirly Time. Courtesy the artists.