Published in the Sun July 28, 2012
Back in high school nobody suspected that Chris Anderson was an artistic genius. His experience with art was limited to a ceramics class at Colville High in northeastern Washington State where he enjoyed throwing a few pots on a potter’s wheel. He also took metal shop. The steel was less pliable than clay, but Chris gradually learned to mold it into useful items and tools. When he graduated, he went to work in his dad’s shop building steel blades for snow plows. But every spring when the snow melted his dad laid him off, so Chris took a job at an air conditioning coil plant where he expanded his repertoire to copper and aluminum.
Chris got a reputation for being clever with metal. The people at Boise Plywood called him with a problem. After all the plywood layers are spiralled off the giant logs they were left with skinny eight foot posts that they wanted to sell as fence posts. Chris built them a giant pencil sharpener.
Chris had been making tools and parts out of steel for about 10 years when a rancher who catered to buffalo hunters asked him to make a steel buffalo skull to decorate his fancy gate. Chris had never done any steel sculpture before but agreed to give it a try. Not only did he manage a realistic skull, but he threw in some chrome plating to add some pizzazz. From that moment, it was like the scales fell from his eyes. Chris began to see creations in rusty pieces of steel where others saw only junk. The ideas started coming one after another. He made life size animals, bears, and a moose. The Forest Service commissioned him to build a memorial to the Civilian Conservation Corps and Chris fashioned a six foot man building a stone wall.
Chris used scrap steel because he could get it for 25 cents a pound. He didn’t care if it was a little rusty. “You just clean it up and it’s good as new.” Gradually he gave up snowplow blades and air conditioning coils and supported himself by displaying his creations at art shows. His favorite show was the Safari Club International in Reno, Nevada. It was there in 2011 that his life abruptly changed.
A Texan walked into the booth at the Reno show and eyed the big steel animals. He casually mentioned that he owned a couple of scrap yards and a recycling business and was looking for a resident artist who could do big animals. Chris and his wife had just built a new home in Washington, and weren’t that interested in relocating to a Texas scrap yard, so Chris didn’t pay too much attention to the suggestion. But the Texan left his card. Just for grins, Chris checked the website.
He discovered that Bob Gregory, CEO of Texas Disposal Systems, has some really big scrap yards and a really big recycling business. He also really likes exotic wild animals, and in fact has over 2000 of them on the Exotic Game Ranch surrounding the TDS landfill. Mr. Gregory invited Chris to come to Texas and look around. When Chris got off the plane in Austin on an 80 degree February day, the former snowplow maker thought to himself, “Holy Mackerel, this ain’t too bad.” He liked what he saw at the TDS facility, and he liked the Gregory family. Mr. Gregory had mentioned that he might be interested in an elephant sculpture, so Chris went back home and secretly whipped up a stainless steel baby elephant head. In March Chris came back with his wife to sell her on Texas and brought the baby elephant head to seal the deal with the Gregorys. The offering worked, and Chris became the resident artist at TDS in November 2011.
It’s a good thing that Chris has a big shop, because the lion he is building now stands 16 feet high at the top of his mane. All around the shop are the bent and damaged dumpsters that have completed their lives as trash receptacles and are about to be reborn as lion skin and claws. Using springs and hinges, Chris plans to have the lion’s tail and mane wave gently with the passing breeze. Scattered around the shop are other projects in various stages of completion: a couple of gargantuan sunflowers whose heads rotate with the wind, a saguaro cactus fashioned from old rebar, a rhinocerous.
Already completed and on display in front of the TDS offices are a magnificent eagle nesting high up in a recycled steel tree and a hungry bear family raiding a bee hive in a tree. Every steel leaf on the bears’ tree is cut from the side of an old dumpster and attached with a fishing swivel, fluttering and chiming with the breeze. Chris is just getting started. We can expect some really great things to come out of those old dumpsters.